Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) issued the season’s first hypothermia alert Nov. 1, as the wind chill dropped the temperatures into the low 30s overnight.
The city issues hypothermia alerts when either the temperature is forecasted to fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit — taking wind chill into account — or if it is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit with more than a 50% chance of precipitation, according to the D.C. Department of Human Services. D.C. residents experiencing homelessness are most affected by cold temperatures, so the city opens extra shelters overnight for the duration of a hypothermia alert.
Organizations at Georgetown University and in the neighborhood coordinate to assist people at risk in the cold. The Georgetown Ministry Center on Wisconsin Avenue is a day center open to those experiencing homelessness every day. The center looks for long-term solutions, such as connecting them with longer-term stable housing, rather than short-term fixes to homelessness, GMC Interim Executive Director Wanda Pierce wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“GMC’s overall mission is to seek lasting solutions to homelessness, one person at a time,” Pierce wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service team partners annually with the GMC for the Hypothermia Outreach Team. This team walks through Georgetown on cold winter nights and helps protect those experiencing homelessness from hypothermia by directing them toward safe shelters and distributing blankets.
Participation in the outreach team requires attending one of Georgetown’s training sessions which will be offered this November and December. The outreach team operates throughout the hypothermia season from Nov. 1 to March 31.
D.C. designated two public spaces to serve as extra shelter space for the Nov. 1 alert — Malcolm X Opportunity Center on Alabama Avenue SE and Sherwood Recreation Center on 10th Street, NE — opened their doors to accommodate those experiencing homelessness following the Nov. 1 alert, according to DCist.
In anticipation of this year’s hypothermia season, the mayor’s office opened a new center downtown where those experiencing homelessness can access critical services during the day, when many other shelters are closed. New York Avenue Presbyterian Church will house the center, which will be managed by the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, according to D.C. Curbed. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Every year, the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness publishes a winter plan to direct city government actions to protect residents during the cold months of the year. The plan highlights the danger posed by hypothermia. Since 2016, there have been eight hypothermia deaths among people experiencing homelessness, the report said.
The temperatures were low on Nov. 1 and will only continue to fall. The coldest temperatures yet this season are expected to hit the District on Nov. 8, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Andrew Snyder.
“The first really cold night, probably one of the coldest nights of the fall season so far, will be Friday night, with fairly widespread temperatures in the low 20s,” Snyder said in an interview with The Hoya. “Overall, very cold for this time of year. For reference, the average low temperature for this time of year is 44 degrees.”
Georgetown students can help aid those experiencing homelessness during the winter by training and walking with the outreach team or by bringing various donations to the Center for Social Justice in Suite 130 of Poulton Hall. Donations can include new socks, gloves, winter hats, scarves, unopened emergency blankets, hand warmers and nonexpired, prepackaged granola bars, according to the Georgetown Homelessness Outreach, Meals and Education Program.