America is letting its homeless die needlessly, cold-related deaths are preventable

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN


Joranne Joseph, Staff Writer

In a country with nearly 1.5 million vacant homes, how is it that America is left with half a million of its people suffering needlessly and without shelter?

As someone who was once homeless, I know the struggle of attempting to keep warm on the streets. I am so grateful my housing insecurity happened in Santa Barbara rather than a colder city like Chicago, where temperatures are dropping as low as  -18 degrees— leaving homeless either fearful for their lives or dead.

Clearly, America’s homeless shelters aren’t as effective as most might believe. With all of the shelters system rules, it makes it nearly impossible for some of the homeless to gain access to shelter. With cold weather-related deaths being one of the leading causes of deaths for America’s homeless, why do shelters make it nearly impossible for them to get inside and to get warm?

I remember when I first arrived at a shelter, all teary-eyed and strung out. I was asked endless questions that I was unable to answer in the state I was in at the time. While trying to answer them, I remember asking myself “Why are they asking me this?” and “Why do they need to know this right now?” They told me that I wouldn’t be able to stay there for more than a night because I wasn’t a resident of Santa Barbara county. Of course I wasn’t a resident, I was homeless.

After a period of substantial deliberation, I was able to reside at the shelter for an extended period of time where I was able to slowly get back on track. While being there, I did run into the issue of being advised to buy a ticket back to where I came from because I would face the risk of sleeping outside, getting beaten, or even raped.  

I knew this meant that I was going to be out on the streets and not in a shelter.

Forty percent of America’s homeless die each year from hypothermia. Not only do those less fortunate have to endure the pain and difficulty of being on the streets during the winter, they get taken away from them the little help they have access to.

With hypothermia death rates being drastically higher amongst the homeless compared to the general population, you’d think the process for getting them into shelters would be more streamlined by now. America, we can do better. Most of us fall short in showing compassion for one another. We lack in practicing and following  examples set by good samaritans, like the Chicago man who rented out 70 hotel rooms last month to shelter a group of homeless kicked out of their camp due to a small propane fire.

It’s time to step it up. Housing insecurity shouldn’t exist, especially in a country where there are three times as many vacant homes as there are homeless people. Something tells me that it shouldn’t be this difficult to get people the help they need and off the streets.

We have the resources, but we choose not to use them. We need to change this and stop the needless suffering.