How to Survive Being Homeless in the Cold

Written by sarah nyako
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How to Survive Being Homeless in the Cold
The number of available beds in shelters usually increases during extreme weather. (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Cold weather is a severe danger to the homeless population. Exposure to the cold kills dozens every year and poses a continual threat to the physical and mental health of homeless people. Survival skills during the winter are a matter of life and death and often depend on limited resources that may be hard for the homeless population to learn about or reach. Ultimately, a combination of these survival skills and facilities able to provide shelter are necessary to save lives.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Find warm clothes and wear several layers. Homeless shelters and churches will often have donation bins with coats. If you cannot find enough clothing to stay warm, head to a Salvation Army or Goodwill centre where warm clothing can be bought cheaply. Additionally, police stations, churches and schools often hold coat drives to gather used coats for the homeless. The best way to find out about the local resources available to you is to contact your nearest homeless shelter.

  2. 2

    Seek adequate shelter. A shelter will provide you with food, warm clothing and often medical treatment for any damage your body has suffered as a result of the harsh winter weather. They may also be able to provide counselling and information or help in finding more permanent housing.

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    Head to an emergency shelter. Many cities make extra beds available when the temperature dips below a certain threshold. To avoid falling ill from exposure, it is very important to get out of the cold when the weather conditions are extreme. If you are turned away from your nearest homeless shelter due to lack of space, be sure to ask about emergency shelters.

  4. 4

    Learn the early warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite -- which can result in amputation if severe enough -- can occur within minutes if the temperature is low enough. Early signs of frostbite are numbness, tingling, burning, or a waxy feeling to limbs. Usually, the hands and feet are the first extremities to feel frostbite's impact. Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature. Warning signs are confusion, slurred speech, drowsiness and memory loss.

  5. 5

    Get proper treatment. Emergency rooms are required to take patients regardless of their ability to pay. While waiting for medical help, avoid prolonged exposure and wet clothing as these will lower your body temperature. Drinking alcohol and being exhausted or dehydrated can hasten the damage. Eating and drinking warm beverages may help maintain your body temperature.

Tips and warnings

  • Refer to the homeless shelter directory contained in the Resources section to find one close to you. You may also be able to connect with services that can assist you by calling 211, a national referral service.

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