It’s been a cold winter, in case you haven’t noticed. While everyone is inconvenienced by icy roads and frigid temperatures, a cold snap is worse — much worse — if you’re homeless. And it doesn’t help that Baltimore may have the nation’s strictest policies for when additional shelter beds can be opened during inclement weather.
The National Coalition for the Homeless examined different cities’ policies when it comes to declaring a hypothermia alert (think of it as the winter equivalent to summertime “red alert” heat days), and thus open up additional shelter for the homeless. Policies range widely; in Berkeley, Denver, and Mobile, winter shelters open when the temperature drops below 40. Many cities, including DC and New York, set 32 degrees as the cut-off point. But Baltimore waits until it’s 13 degrees — 13!! — before opening emergency shelters. This is a potentially very dangerous policy. As the NCH points out, hypothermia can set in even at 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
During our early January cold snap, the Baltimore Sun reported that not only were shelters at capacity, but overflow beds and overflow shelters were also completely full.