As brandy breath and I doofed along in this morning's chill I thought about the dire winter storm warnings we've been hearing. They amuse me. Happens every year. But compared to parts of Montana, the Dakotas and on eastward across the northern tier our part of the Inland Northwest is the banana belt.
Though layered to the hilt, I was still cold. When we got home I checked the weather channel; at eight fifteen it was 27 degrees with a wind chill of 18. The reason for this exercise was an article in the November 24th issue of the Inlander regarding shelter for the homeless. It seems social service agencies have been working on a "cold weather implementation plan". This is basically an emergency plan for when the temperature dips below 5 degrees. Five degrees! That's when they plan to open additional shelters for the homeless - so they don't freeze to death.
This is a three tier plan. Should the city experience a cold snap at 5 degrees or lower anticipated to last less than 5 days they would be allowed to open up additional "warming centers". Tier 2 kicks in if said cold snap is anticipated to last more than 5 days and would involve additional agencies. Tier 3 "would be an ice storm." Even more facilities would open up - gymnasiums, etc.
Now I do understand a lot of programs dealing with the homeless depend on volunteers and non governmental funding. But when it is stated in print that the temperature limit was set at 5 degrees because setting it any higher would bring in more people than they can support I'm chilled to the bone.
So at what temperature does one freeze to death? My source is the River Bend Nature Center web site - http://www.rbnc.org. I learned it is our internal temperature that counts - not external. Our normal temperature is 98.6 degrees F. As our internal temperature lowers this is what happens:
Below 96 - muscle coordination deteriorates, shivering increases, brain function dims
Below 93 - violent shivering, less ability to move muscles and to reason
Below 87 - lose consciousness
Below 75 - death
In extreme conditions you can survive 3 hours without shelter. Consumption of alcohol makes you colder.
Now lets look at the homeless. Poorly clothed, perhaps less mentally acute than many of us, poorly fed, poorly exercised, bearing illnesses they may not even know they have. On cold nights perhaps bucked up with really lousy whiskey.
So what? All I know is that I have high blood pressure and the meds cause my extremities to get colder faster than without. I know at 27 degrees with a wind chill of 18 my fingers were freezing inside my gloves and I was anxious to get out of the biting wind. I know that if I had to spend nights outside of shelter I'd be dead long before that 5 degree mark was reached.
Cities have homeless. Some of those folks are homeless because they want to be; others purely by circumstance. Rents are too high, jobs are not available. The responsibility should not fall on the non government social organizations alone. They don't cause excessive rents or lack of jobs. The system, catch all as that may sound, does.
If the city fathers take care of their residents, the residents will take care of the city fathers. Ideally this would apply across the board. Mr. Mayor and City Council - step up to the plate. Or open up that fancy new gondola ride to nowhere for shelter.
Me? I'm lucky. I've got a pair of floppy dog ears that are the best hand warmers in the world.