It is an epidemic that scours the countryside in search of people who are vulnerable to its deadly claws. Author Stephen King could not write a better tale of fear and death than what is happening now.
It is not some new strain of virus attacking susceptible immune systems. I’m not talking about the two cases of avian influenza that were recently reported in Asia, though I’m sure face masks and gloves will be seen on their streets soon.
Here in America, the plague sweeping the nation is the brutal freezing weather that is pounding our neighborhoods.
If you can’t handle the freezing weather, just throw another log onto the fire or crank up that thermostat, wear your goose down jacket and warm mittens, and cover your head with something warm. Russians don’t wear those ushankas just for the sake of fashion, after all.
But a fear of death lingers in these cold-laden communities among those who live on the streets. More than 600,000 people are without homes in the United States. If you are living in a tent, in a vehicle, or under a bridge, not even an ushanka will protect you from the cold.
Over the last couple of weeks, four people living on the streets of California—yes, “sunny” California—died from hypothermia-related complications.
If people are dying of cold in California, what about the 10,000 Minnesotans who call the streets home? With wind chill temperatures dropping to 22 degrees below zero in the land of 10,000 lakes, officials are scrambling to protect their homeless neighbors. Outreach teams are frantically searching for people who may not realize the potentially deadly consequences of sleeping outdoors during a Minnesotan cold spell.
In other parts of our frigid country, “warming centers” are being set up. A church in Walla Walla, Washington is opening its doors to welcome its homeless neighbors inside. Faith groups and community centers in Portland, Oregon are doing the same.
Los Angeles, California recently opened up 13 winter shelters throughout the region to help those who are fleeing the cold. Temperatures in Southern California will hover around 40 degrees this week. While this may not be brutal Siberian weather, it can still be deadly for a person who is elderly, or struggling with illness, and living on the streets.
For those of us who have a warm place to call home, this cold winter weather is a nuisance. Our shoes drag mud into the house, traffic gets tangled, and schools close down and make us scramble for babysitting. Such a bother.
But I’d rather be cleaning up mud in the foyer than curled up under a freeway overpass during a cold spell.
Yes, the epidemic of homelessness and frigid weather is overtaking our country. But we all know the antidote to this deadly pandemic.
It’s a warm house.