Nov. 1 marked the start of D.C.’s hypothermia season, indicated by prolonged periods of extreme temperature that is near or at below freezing. Hypothermia season lasts until April 15, and during these five frigid months, D.C.’s housing insecure residents—houseless residents in particular—are the most immediately at risk for hypothermia and other cold weather injuries.
Currently, 4,410 individuals experience houselessness in D.C., although that number is likely an undercount. During the last fiscal year, two residents experiencing homelessness suffered hypothermia as the primary cause of death and many more incurred weather-related ailments. D.C. agencies, local non-profits, and organizations, such as Georgetown University’s Hypothermia/Hyperthermia Outreach Team (HOT), are aiming to completely prevent weather related deaths and injuries.
HOT was formed through a partnership between the university’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) and Ministry Center, and operates under the Homeless Outreach, Meals, Education (HOME) program. As a volunteer-based program, HOT members help prevent cold weather injury and death by assessing the needs of people living on the street and encouraging them to seek safety in available shelters, as well as warming stations.
“This volunteer work is an important way for the Georgetown community to care for our own neighbors in need,” according to the organization’s website. “Service with and care for people who are marginalized is an important act of love at the center of our Ignatian values.”
HOT volunteers work on an ad hoc basis. Weekly scheduling requests are sent out once weather conditions for the upcoming week are forecasted, and the HOT assesses volunteer availability based on the frequency of hypothermic temperatures. On the day of volunteering, the HOT team assembles at 7:00 p.m. at the CSJ office, and typically spends the next two hours conducting outreach.
While there is no quota on the number of times a HOT member must volunteer during hypothermia season, each outreach team requires at least four people to properly carry out the necessary outreach. In the upcoming months, community mobilization will be key to saving lives affected by weather extremities.
During outreach, volunteers are responsible for conducting wellness checks with individuals experiencing houselessness in Georgetown and surrounding neighborhoods. These checks include assessing any signs of hypothermia, providing emergency supplies like blankets, hand warmers, and water, and connecting individuals to D.C.’s shelters, transportation, and health-related resources.
To ensure the efficacy of outreach, the CSJ hosts 1.5-hour orientation sessions, which take place from November to February for hypothermia outreach training. The organization does not stop operations when cold weather ends, however. It also holds sessions from May to June for hyperthermia—health ailments due to extreme heat—outreach training. The next hypothermia outreach training session will take place over Zoom on Tuesday, Nov. 29 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., and interested Georgetown members can register for training regardless of prior experience or specialization.
In addition to conducting direct outreach, ways to support HOT include the donation of supplies and financial contributions. Clothing items that can be donated to HOT include unused socks, gloves, and winter hats. Unopened emergency foil/thermal blankets, hand warmers, and non-expired, pre-packaged granola bars are also warmly welcomed. All supplies above can be brought to the CSJ office located at Poulton Hall, Suite 130. Financial donations to HOT can be made through the university site by choosing “Other” and indicating “CSJ Hypothermia Outreach Team” in the gift description.
D.C.’s Hypothermia Hotline is 202-399-7093. The hotline can connect individuals to access to transportation to emergency shelters and emergency items including blankets, gloves, and jackets.