As of March 2021, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that in a single night of 2020, 580,466 people experienced homelessness. This disheartening statistic has dire consequences as the weather gets colder by the day.
Approximately 39% of people experiencing homelessness were unsheltered on a given night in 2020, which can be life-threatening in winter weather. Without proper shelter, a jacket or even a sufficient space to stay dry, people experiencing homelessness are at risk of severe cold-related illnesses and even death.
It was estimated in 2010 that 700 homeless people die yearly from cold-related injuries, according to the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council. The U.S. lacks the proper division of resources for this issue, and whether it is on the federal, state or city level, the effort currently being put forth is simply not enough.
The shelters and affordable housing structures in place now are overwhelmed with the number of people in need. For those who cannot get into a shelter for the night, who cannot find housing even temporarily or choose to forgo these options, spaces outdoors are limited by hostile architecture.
Hostile architecture refers to a type of design that makes public spaces unable to be used for sleeping, primarily. These designs are as overt as spikes being placed on the ground between buildings and under overpasses or bridges, and as subtle as benches with dividers or made slanted.
By barring people experiencing homelessness from the few public spaces they may be able to find comfort or safety from the weather, city design contributes directly to their injury, especially in cold weather. But eradicating homelessness should be more than just not hurting the homeless more, it should be an active process of caring for people without a place to stay even for a night.
An exhibit in the Architecture Museum of the Technical University of Munich in Germany is displaying projects in which designers are intentionally creating spaces for housing that are not only safe but are places to be proud of. These buildings are so much more than four blank walls that exude a lack of care and heart for the people living in these spaces.
More spaces like the Star Apartments housing complex in Los Angeles need to be funded so that people experiencing homelessness know they are not a burden to society. They are people who deserve more than shelter. They deserve comfort as well as beauty.
HUD reports that the Biden administration has designated $4.925 billion toward “developing housing to address homelessness” which “gives participating jurisdictions flexibility to best meet the needs of people experiencing or at – risk of experiencing homelessness.”
I hope in “best meeting needs” the cities and towns receiving funding take care to make housing that is accessible and comforting, and that they act soon. Proper funding and allocation are what stands between cities and caring for their citizens experiencing homelessness.
This winter, I implore communities to take care of one another where existing structures hit limitations. COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue of homelessness in America and also exacerbates the amount of sickness homeless people are incurring.
While also connecting with your local and state officials on this issue, the National Coalition for the Homeless recommends taking actions like donating clothes, kits of necessities, money or volunteer time. The reasons people experience homelessness are widely varied, but regardless, each individual deserves to be safe during this especially difficult time of year.