Even with the official start of winter still a month away, for many parts of the country, cold weather has set in, and snow has begun to fall. A challenging, and often long season for many, winter can be a particularly difficult and dangerous time for the most vulnerable populations as they seek out basic needs and care.
For providers of services to vulnerable populations, the weeks leading into winter are a time to set the wheels in motion to ensure the continuum of care remains unbroken by the harsh weather. Below is a look at a variety of innovative and effective initiatives from across the country of ways to provide vital services through these cold months:
One of the most challenging issues in providing winter shelter is finding space that is not only available, but adequate and acceptable to the surrounding community. And as the real estate market in many cities has taken off, meeting that challenge takes some out-of-the-box thinking.
In Portland, Oregon, a new temporary 100-bed shelter space is coming online this winter thanks to a private-public partnership in which a local developer has donated use of a former night club. “What we need to see is deliberate experimentation, rapid action, and real money,” said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, after declaring homeless crisis in his city last year.
2. Winter Clothing
Founded in 1998 and based in Pennsylvania, Operation Warm provides brand-new and stylish winter coats for children in need between the ages of 3 to 13. Beyond a traditional coat drive, the non-profit Operation Warm manufactures the winter coats themselves. The organization follows a mission that having a new coat can create a feeling of pride and foster self-esteem in a child facing poverty and lead to peer acceptance and improved overall wellness. According to the organization, added benefits of their approach beyond increased self-esteem include education and wellness. A new, good coat allows kids to make it to school on cold, rainy days; additionally, a warm coat enables kids to play outside and exercise during cold winter days.
In Michigan, five non-profits across the state, The Salvation Army, Michigan Community Action, The Heat and Warmth Fun (THAW), the St. Vincent DePaul Society and TrueNorth Community Services, will work together to make $12 million in heating assistance funds available to more than 30,000 families this winter. The program is funded by energy provider, Consumers Energy, and offers a local 2-1-1 help line for residents seeking information on available assistance in each community.
As snow snarls traffic and ice makes sidewalks slick, access to healthcare becomes vitally important and challenging to deliver. In an innovative program in Philadelphia, the Hub for Hope was created right where many of neediest can most easily get it – a subway station. Located on the platform of Two Penn Center, between January and April of 2016, the Hub for Hope logged 9,165 visits from 1,712 individuals, offering a variety of clinical assessments and services, including psychiatric care.
Winter’s extreme weather can be a trial for all of us in our daily lives, regardless of our means. But the barriers it presents to the most vulnerable among us can be an incredible challenge. By connecting with these types of effective and innovative programs and services, we hope we can help make this winter safer and healthier for all.