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How Cities are Combating Homelessness During Brutal Weather Conditions

 As the temperatures continue to drop across the country, individuals facing homelessness have turned to alternative ways to keep warm. Since the pandemic, shelters are less of a viable options. This article explores the difficult position cities, and those facing homelessness are placed in with extreme weather conditions, homelessness, and COVID-19.

One week ago, a fatal fire occurred in the downtown Kansas City, Missouri area where one person in the unhoused community lost their life.

The cause of the fire, as officials later found out, was to keep warm during the brutal Midwest winter. Although the fire was eventually contained, it is a reminder of how those facing homelessness are affected by extreme weather conditions.

As a casualty of COVID-19, homeless shelters have been forced to limit capacity to maintain social distance, which in turn has decreased their capacity. A New York Times piece interviewed several city officials and activists in Kansas City, MO. Given the choice between preventing a rise in COVID-19 cases through social distancing or letting the unhoused community freeze in the brutal winter months, city officials have been forced to choose what they deem the lesser of two evils. 

“Follow the health code for COVID-19 or put them out in the cold to die” community activist Jae Bennet questions.

Extreme weather conditions and homelessness have always been a deadly combination that left major U.S. cities grappling for solutions. However, the addition of COVID-19 transformed what once was a two-part combination into what is now a deadly triad.

Since shelters are having to turn those in need away due to social distancing restrictions, the unhoused community has to turn to other short-term alternatives. For example, Kansas City shelters have been outsourced to other areas such as halls and the local convention center, which currently provides shelter for approximately 300 people. By doing this, the city’s shelters were able to increase their intake by a significant amount and temporarily offset the deadly triad. 

The convention center provides other services in addition to shelter, which is what individuals who were previously reluctant to seek shelter are looking for. Activists hope to continue cultivating more long-term, replicable solutions such as the ones currently in place to combat extreme weather conditions year-round.

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