Code Blue

As you shiver your way down the sidewalk in your little black dress (or fancy suit and tie) and think how you can’t wait to get inside where it’s warm and start ringing in the New Year with your family and friends, think about those who don’t have that option.  Maybe homelessness isn’t something you face in your day to day life and maybe it’s not something you prefer to think about as you make your way to your celebration, but the fact is that, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, over 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness each year, and 23% of those homeless are children.  If you are cold on your five minute walk from parking spot to party, imagine what it must be like for a homeless person who has no warm place to go.

If the harshest cold you’ve ever had to deal with was sitting at a sporting event for a few hours or walking a few blocks from your car to your destination, then the situation the homeless face during the winter is probably hard to fathom.  Luckily, many cities, including Baltimore, have shelters that open during cold months (not just for the homeless, but also for those whose homes have no working heat) and stay open for extended hours on “Code Blue” days, when temperatures are expected to be below 25 degrees with winds of 15 miles per hour or higher or during other winter weather events.  Although shelters are a step in the right direction, they can only house so many people.  So what can you do to help?  Well, if you’re like me, you have a few extra winter coats that you don’t wear anymore or have grown out of.  Consider donating those coats to a nonprofit organization, such as Paul’s Place Outreach Center or Project PLASE, who will then give them directly to a person in need of a winter jacket.  Annually, over 700 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness die of hypothermia in the United States.  Your old jacket could save one of those 700 people.  As you celebrate this year and make your New Year’s Resolutions, perhaps one of those resolutions could be to go through your closet and donate some of your old winter coats to those in need.  The upside is that you will have achieved one of your resolutions early and perhaps that will help you work toward the rest if, like me, your resolutions only last until about January 2…

Of course, donating clothing and other useful items is great, but it’s not the solution to the issue of homelessness.  Homelessness won’t be eradicated by continuous donations of clothing, but rather by a true understanding of what leads people to become homeless and a program that addresses the many facets of this issue at the same time.  Maybe resolution number two could be to get out there and volunteer for the organization you donated your coat to.  Learn about how they are addressing the issue of homelessness, get involved with their clients, learn their stories, and come to a deeper understanding of the issue that over 3.5 million Americans face each year.  Contact one of the organizations mentioned above or check out any of the other VM VISTA Sponsor Agencies, where our AmeriCorps members focus specifically on eradicating poverty, for places you can volunteer in the New Year!

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