On any given night in the United States, approximately 800,000 homeless people are out on the streets. And on winter nights, when temperatures drop below freezing in much of the country, the streets can be incredibly dangerous.
According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, homeless people are three to six times more likely to become ill—and develop hypothermia or frostbite—than those who have a place to call home.
Of course, many homeless people will migrate from the streets to the shelters during winter. But many are also turned away as shelters hit capacity or as individuals are denied entry for insobriety.
In response to the growing need for compassionate provision in this season, more and more church communities are choosing to open emergency shelters. Nearly 30 churches in Fairfax County, Va., for instance, have partnered with government at a local level in a commitment to host the homeless with a “no turn away” policy from November to March. At these volunteer-run emergency shelters, homeless individuals find a safe place to sleep, a free meal and sometimes even a hot shower.
“Fairfax County has a unique partnership with our faith communities and nonprofits,” says Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova. “We are committed to serving the homeless population in a way that is compassionate and ensures their safety.”
As temperatures fall, this type of creative solution may be just what’s needed to bring the homeless in from the cold.