Local view: We can help the homeless stay warmFor those of us who call this area home, spending time outdoors is a common, interwoven thread of the fabric of our lives.
By: David Worley, for the News Tribune
For those of us who call this area home, spending time outdoors is a common, interwoven thread of the fabric of our lives. Recreating outdoors not only provides opportunities to bring us together, it provides solitude and reflection while supporting our regional economy. With extensive trail and park systems to expansive woods, lakes and streams, the Northland offers nearly limitless options for outdoor recreation. Embracing the beauty of our natural world, sometimes in downright atrocious conditions, is a conscious and willful decision many of us make over and over again.
But what if you had no choice? What if you were homeless and were forced to live outdoors in the same environment we cherish for its beauty and recreational potential yet respect, if not fear, for its life-threatening brutality? Worse yet, what if you were forced to live and sleep in these conditions without proper clothing such as a warm coat, boots, gloves or hat? Imagine the risk of frostbite, hypothermia and death inherent in sleeping outdoors without proper clothing, let alone a sleeping bag or tent.
As a physician and winter camping enthusiast, I can’t imagine doing it.
Sadly, though, this is a reality for too many people in the Northland today. The News Tribune’s Dec. 25 story, “They died knowing homelessness, but CHUM vigil gives them a face,” reported that 37 people who were homeless died on Duluth city streets and in public places in 2012, the greatest number since an annual Christmas Eve vigil began here in 2002.
The same article said 939 individuals in Duluth made use of shelter provided by CHUM in 2012, the greatest number ever reported.
Just in case you thought the face of homelessness was that of an adult only, Duluth public schools report a 21 percent increase in homeless students attending our schools this year, according to a Dec. 12 story. Project Reach Out, which serves Superior and Northwestern Wisconsin, reported 125 youths as homeless in the Superior school district since September. Finally, Lifehouse, a Duluth organization serving homeless youth, reported the average age of a homeless individual in this country is 9 years old.
Sometimes a problem can seem so complex and multifaceted it leaves us feeling overwhelmed. Homelessness and factors associated with it such as financial hardship, substance abuse and mental illness are complicated.
We’re fortunate, though, to have many outstanding area organizations working together every day to comprehensively address homelessness in our midst.
The Homeless Project and Project Reach Out, which served more than 800 individuals in the Duluth and Superior areas last year, are run by the Human Development Center and are in dire need of resources to assist people who are faced with homelessness. You can help in a meaningful but simple way by donating gently used or new items of winter clothing, such as boots, coats, hats, gloves, mittens, wool socks, scarves, long johns, sleeping bags, tarps, tents, toiletries, blankets, backpacks, first aid kits, water bottles and nonperishable food items. You can donate to the 2013 HDC Homeless Project Supply Drives, a project supported by Leadership Duluth that benefits the Duluth-Superior communities via HDC.
These drives will be held Sunday at the Superior Walmart and Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Hermantown Walmart. Donations will be collected from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day at clearly marked tables in the parking lots. Lists of needed items will be available on-site and posted at the Walmart entrances for people who wish to purchase a needed item that day. Donation bins also will be available at all six Duluth branch locations of US Bank and Essentia-St. Mary’s Superior Clinic through Jan. 21.
The next time you enjoy our great outdoors, take a moment to remember people struggling to survive in the same environment. Your generosity might be the difference between life and death.
David Worley of Duluth is a family physician at the University of Minnesota Duluth Health Services, is a magazine columnist, and is a member of Leadership Duluth, a program of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.