Winter’s Consequences to Vulnerable Populations

By Alex Gryciuk

Homelessness proliferated by the housing crisis inevitably creates a lower quality of life to individuals who face it. Limited access to easily available nutrition, a comfortable place to sleep, mental and physical health providers, and protection from dangerous individuals all contribute to a multitude of hardships that people who experience homelessness face. However, a warm shelter and roof over your head becomes an increasingly valuable luxury during the winter months; adding to adversity that unhoused people face. 

To most, winter months mean chillier weather, memories in snow, and icy sidewalks. On the other hand, acknowledging that other warm areas, like the Bay Area, do not face such extreme weather during the winter months, colder weather and changing weather patterns still disporotionalty affect individuals who face homelessness in those areas. 

In December through February, average temperatures in California range from 37˚F to 45˚ F. During the summer months in California, low temperatures range from 55˚ F to 65 F˚. Even in a warmer area, temperatures still drop significantly from summer. In New York, the lows reach freezing temperatures averaging from 27˚F to 35˚F occur through the winter season. Analyzing data from both California and New York, temperatures at night greatly decrease during winter months. In addition, lower temperatures, precipitation, wind, and dampness universally intensify around the world. As most can hide from the cold, individuals that experience homelessness that do not live in shelters, almost 200,000, have no option but to stay outside. 

Extremely harsh conditions cause many health issues such as hypothermia, frostbite, and other related ailments due to coldness develop when outside in a colder environment. Unfortunately, life threatening hypothermia can take place from temperatures 35 F˚ to 50 F˚. Even in California, people who experience homelessness greatly endanger themselves by living in colder weather. In addition to physical consequences, many unhoused individuals explain that they were more depressed during the winter and felt that they could not keep themselves well. Forced survival in an unwanted, hostile environment takes a mental toll on those affected. In addition, wet bedding, chilling winds, constant cold in the night all provide dangerous outcomes for those individuals that unwillingly lack proper shelter and warm clothes. Definitely, cold, harsh winter months bring additional stress and hardships to people who already live with homelessness.

Clearly, homelessness is not desired by any individual. Thrown into a situation that strips all of humanity and basic rights, hardships inevitably occur and individuals feel less than human. Most, if not all, experience some sort of mental illness, chronic ailment, disabilities, and/or addiction that prevent working and lead to sad conditions. Tragically, homelessness guarantees undesirable conditions that only worsen during cold, harsh winter months.