Homeless shelters across the country are being strained by frigid weather and a population of people who are homeless that is up for the first time since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Despite “code blue” policies that are designed to bring more homeless people inside during freezing temperatures, shelters are reaching capacity and being forced to turn people away, says Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.”Thirty-five percent of people who are homeless are not sheltered,” she tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “We have about 550,000 homeless people but only about 275,000 emergency beds. So this is something that causes issues when we have these kind of serious cold snaps.”
Even if there is an available bed, sometimes people face barriers to entry such as ID requirements, health issues or if they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Roman says.
Others would rather stay on the streets than go to a shelter because they can be dangerous places riddled with drugs, theft and bedbugs. As a result, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimates nearly 700 people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness die from hypothermia each year.
“Shelters really do need to lower their barriers, and we need to support them to do that so that there is a bed that’s appropriate for every person,” Roman says. “We just cannot be leaving people on the streets when it’s cold or when it’s not cold.”
But that’s exactly what happens across the country, and when ordinary citizens or activists try to help by opening their own homes to people who are homeless, like Greg Schiller of Elgin, Ill., they are told by city officials to shut down.