Practical Ways to Help Those Experiencing Homelessness This Winter

Pathways to Housing PA
snowy philadelphia street

Temperatures are dropping and the holiday season is in full swing. While the first snow fall brings joy to many, it can be a reminder of the tough season ahead for those living on the streets. Daylight hours are reduced and most do their best to stay out of the blustery conditions. There are the obvious effects of the cold on the homeless population, like hypothermia and frostbite, but the ripple effects on one’s mental and physical health are often irreparable. 

Over time, being exposed to the elements can have a negative impact on a person's body. Facing homelessness in cold weather is incredibly stressful because there's constant worry about finding a safe and warm place to spend the night. Continued exposure to cold weather can also increase the risk of a heart attack. Without access to a clean and warm place for personal hygiene, it becomes easier for colds and viruses to spread, contributing to the overall negative health effects of living on the street.

Code Blue

To assist those experiencing homelessness in the extreme cold, many major cities have “Code Blue” protocols in which the city will take extra steps to keep folks out of the elements. In Philadelphia, a Code Blue is put into place when they’re “expecting very cold conditions. This includes:

  • When there’s precipitation and the temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • When it feels near or below 20 degrees due to wind chill.”

During a Code Blue in Philly, there is 24-hour outreach to ensure individuals find shelter. Shelters often extend their hours into the daytime, in addition providing more beds. “If you see a person who appears to be homeless outdoors during a Code Blue, call the City’s homeless outreach hotline at (215) 232-1984.” 

Donate Winter Items

Many nonprofits, including Pathways, give out winter items to help our neighbors get a little warmer this winter. Blankets, warm socks, coats, gloves, and hats are all great items to consider donating to a local nonprofit of your choosing. Gather your family and friends to create a bunch of winter kits, or try it on your own! Pathways to Housing PA, Bethesda Project, Prevention Point, and HopePHL are all great nonprofits to consider. 

If you want to donate items to Pathways, we put together a helpful guide of the items we need most. Check it out Winter Kit below! (Click the image for a printable PDF).

winter kits pdf

Lead with Kindness & Be Respectful

If you see someone experiencing homelessness, lead with kindness. Don’t avert your eyes. They're people who should be treated with the same respect and dignity we give to others we interact with. Asking for help is hard, and doing it while people ignore you and make you feel less than is even harder. A simple nod, smile, or word of encouragement is all it takes to share kindness. 

If you offer food or help to someone and they reject you, please do not take it personally. There are many factors and unseen circumstances at play. Someone could feel an incredible amount of shame in accepting help. If someone refuses, be respectful, offer a smile, and carry on your way. Remember to be gracious with yourself and others.

Volunteer Opportunities

As the weather drops, it becomes harder to do outreach, find folks who need assistance, and provide services. There are a few great organizations providing weekly outreach throughout the year who are always looking for volunteers to help out. Volunteers usually help put together care packages, clean up the community, hand out items to community members, and more. Below is a list of organizations to consider volunteering with:

Here are a few organizations operating weekly street outreach:

Savage Sisters, Operation in My Backyard, Courage Medicine

If you’d like to help serve warm meals, please consider the following organizations:

Broad St Ministry, Face to Face Germantown, St. Francis Inn

As we navigate the winter season, don't forget Philly's homeless outreach hotline (215-232-1984) and the power of leading with kindness and respect. Whether it's a warm coat, a few hours of your time, or a simple act of kindness, each contribution makes a difference.