Did you know very few people experiencing homelessness die from exposure to the weather? Neither hypothermia (exposure to cold) or hyperthermia (exposure to heat) is hardly ever the primary cause of death.
In 2012, Philadelphia released a significant research report, City of Philadelphia Homeless Death Review, analyzing data from 2009-2010. Of 90 people experiencing homelessness who died during 2009-2010, the top five primary causes of death were
- drug intoxication or alcoholism,
- circulatory system diseases,
- diseases of an infectious etiology, and
Only 6% of deaths resulted primarily from hypothermia and hyperthermia combined.
The other important finding in their report was that homeless deaths do not follow a clear pattern of increase during cold months. In fact, almost 50% of the deaths studied in Philadelphia’s review occurred during the six months between April and September, the hottest months of the year (annual average high and low temperatures are strikingly similar in Philadelphia and Charlotte).
The reason I’m sharing this information is to debunk a major myth. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard over the years, “now that’s its getting warmer I bet fewer people need shelter because they can stay outside.”
It’s not about the weather, it’s about the other issues that cause death among people experiencing homelessness – poor health, accidents and injuries, and terminal illnesses – issues that can be exacerbated in hot and cold temperatures but are independent of the weather. It’s about making sure our citizens experiencing homelessness have safe shelter and assistance year round, not just in the winter months.
As we approach the first day of summer (June 21st), and prepare for pool parties, summer vacations, and time on the lake, please take a moment to support the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte with your time, treasure, and talent. We’re working hard 24/7/365 to help all men experiencing homelessness stay safe, healthy, and move beyond homelessness.
I get asked often what the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte means when we talk about moving men into more appropriate housing. Partly, I think the question stems from our desire to categorize things or fit them neatly into boxes. I get it, I have my own need for order and consistency. However, when dealing with people, we can’t do our best to serve when concerned more about classifying than understanding. So, here’s how we explain the concept of “more appropriate housing” at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.
First, sleeping in an emergency shelter is more appropriate than being on the streets. I think most folks will readily agree on that. Next, most other forms of housing are more appropriate than staying in a shelter. Why? Shelter must be a short intervention aimed at helping someone in crisis quickly stabilize and then move on with their lives. For too long we’ve accepted the idea that once someone is in shelter it’s a good opportunity to deal with their issues so they can then be ready for housing. Not so! More than anything, long stays in shelter rob men of their esteem, their self-motivation. We need to help them move out of the shelter as quickly and effectively as possible. This starts with locating and obtaining more appropriate housing. For example, for someone overcoming addiction, a long-term residential treatment program may be more appropriate than shelter. A group home for medically fragile Veterans may be more appropriate. Assisted living may be more appropriate. For a lot of men, an apartment of their own is more appropriate. For many, being reunited with family is more appropriate.
Yes, there must be supports in place regardless of the housing opportunity to help deal with issues when times get tough. But times get tough for all of us. And when we have a support system we are able to deal with those obstacles and move on. Same applies with moving men into more appropriate housing. Making sure they have the income to sustain their housing choice and making sure supports are in place are critical. But the first step is understanding that shelter is very temporary and most other forms of housing are more appropriate. It’s not always a neat and tidy approach, but it’s incredibly effective.
The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte is well known as the only emergency shelter for men experiencing homelessness in our community. But we do so much more than provide shelter. Here’s three things I bet you didn’t know:
1. MSC focuses on Housing – MSC is one of our community’s largest housing providers. We don’t own or manage apartments. In fact, not every man we house moves into an apartment. We believe that the shelter is more appropriate than the streets and that most other forms of housing are more appropriate than being in a shelter. Since July 1, 2o13, our staff have helped more than 300 men move out of the shelter and into more appropriate housing – 43% into their own apartment, 26% reunited with family, and 31% connected to supportive housing programs that can meet their longer term needs.
2. MSC Focuses on Unique Needs – only a daily basis our staff assist men with a broad range of issues. We help men receiving terminal diagnoses deal with end of life issues. We help men reconnect with mothers they haven’t spoken to in many years. We help men address the various problems that keep holding them back from getting that job or finding a place to live. We help men find jobs, secure retirement benefits, and take care of their children. Often, we also get to celebrate. Just recently I was talking with a couple of our men and one shared that he received a letter from social security that day saying he was officially retired and would start receiving his social security check. He had worked hard all his life and we took a moment to celebrate that now he could retire with a place of his own.
3. MSC Relies on a Lot of Partners – whether volunteers, nonprofits, or local government, very little of our work is done by MSC alone. MSC counts on well over 100 houses of faith and over 3,000 volunteers to serve meals, manage our commissaries, and work with men in our Housing & Employment Resource Center. We have dozens of nonprofit partners who help us help our men. We rely on Crisis Assistance Ministry for furniture, clothing, and volunteers to move men into their new places. We rely on RHA to provide mental health outreach and treatment. We are fortunate that on Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, the Charlotte Rescue Mission hosts our men to a day of fellowship and great food. Our local government partners, especially the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, provide substance abuse treatment, testing for communicable diseases, and housing subsidy funds. We also connect the men we serve with the expert services of many of our fellow United Way partner agencies.
Now you know.