Like many of you, we put on extra layers — bundling up with mittens, scarves and hats — and broke out the space heaters this past week to beat that wicked winter weather. We couldn’t help, though, thinking about those among us who don’t have a warm home to escape the cold.
Concerned and curious, we reached out to a few local organizations to see what they were doing to help Alexandria’s homeless. Many of our area shelters, nonprofits, churches and government agencies have thrown open their doors to down-and-out residents, taking in as many as they could. Carpenter’s Shelter, for instance, reported housing 48 individuals at its winter shelter overnight Tuesday.
Since we came to this topic thinking that Alexandria’s homeless would be in dire straits thanks to the polar vortex, we were surprised to learn — anecdotally — that cold snaps often prompt an outpouring of support and help. With them come open doors, warm meals and donations of winter gear.
After all, who doesn’t want to help out during a crisis?
But that just made us think all the harder about the rest of the year. Sure, the temperatures were beginning to warm by week’s end, but that’s only relative. After a cold snap, even 30 degrees feels downright balmy — unless you’re still on the street, trying to make do on a frigid winter night.
While this polar vortex is on the way out, there are plenty more of those chilly evenings left. Will we still be willing to help when it’s 30 or 40 degrees out?
And that raises another point: Though summer seems a long way off, it strikes us as just as tough to get by when the temperature soars higher than 100 degrees for days on end. Toss in a bit of that Washington-area humidity, and you have the potential for a real problem on your hands.
As Slate business writer Matthew Yglesias correctly noted in a blog post earlier this week, summer weather is likely more difficult to deal with than the alternative: “A T-shirt and shorts may be comfortable at 85 degrees. But then what about 95 degrees? What about the occasional day when it’s 102? You run out of options fast. And even shorts and a T-shirt only get you so far.”
Luckily, we all know Alexandria is a very charitable community. Organizations like ACT for Alexandria and Carpenter’s Shelter thrive in this town, because so many of us are willing to give so much. And there are plenty of ways to lend a hand, whether we’re braving a polar vortex or abysmal heat wave.
So while the worst of this particular weather phenomenon seems over, let’s not forget to help whenever we can, no matter the temperature. Winter or summer, it’s never a good time to turn a cold shoulder to our neighbors in need.