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January 08, 2022

How to help Philadelphia's unhoused population through the cold spell

The Office of Homeless Service's hotline -- (215) 232-1984 -- will be available 24/7

Weather Homelessness
Homeless Code Blue Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

As Philadelphia prepares for some of its chillest weather yet this winter, some residents online are wondering how they can help the city's unhoused population through the cold spell. The city's Office of Homeless Services encourages people to call its hotline if they need help or see someone who does. The number is (215) 232-1984.

There's a cold spell coming early next week, and some Philadelphians are looking for ways to help the city's unhoused population through what will likely be a tough couple of days.

For the first time this winter, the daily high temperature will dip below freezing on Monday according to the National Weather Service.

Although it will be rainy and in the 40 degree range on Sunday, the high was just 33 degrees on Saturday. It'll stay below 30 degrees on Monday and below 22 degrees on Tuesday, but above 16 degrees on both days. The temperature will return to the mid-thirties on Wednesday.

On the Philadelphia subreddit, some users were looking for ways to aid the city's homeless.

"What resources are there to find folks a warm bed at night that an average person can actually do?" one user who was concerned about an unhoused person in their neighborhood asked. "No one, absolutely no one, deserves to freeze to death."

Call (215) 232-1984 – the hotline is open 24 hours a day

Any time the city's temperature goes below 32 degrees with precipitation or the perceived temperature drops below 20 degrees, the city's Office of Homeless Services puts in place their "code blue" protocol.

That means the city's homeless hotline, (215) 232-1984, is open 24 hours a day with the goal of identifying unhoused people on the streets so they can be checked on and transported to a safe indoor space. Additionally, every single bed in the city's emergency housing network will be made available and people will be allowed to stay in the emergency housing during the day. No one will be required to provide an ID to enter.

"You can call the hotline and they will send someone who is properly trained out to see if the person wants help accessing a shelter or other safe place to stay," one Reddit commenter said.

One group that will be responding to calls fielded through the hotline is the non-profit Project HOME, which provides a wide array of services to Philadelphia's population in addition to emergency shelter.

The original poster on the Philadelphia subreddit confirmed that the hotline operators "picked up right away and are sending someone out to check on" the person they were concerned about.

The unhoused aren't obligated to accept help

Unhoused people are not obligated to take any resources offered to them regardless of the weather and often don't.

"Unhoused people often know of the resources in their area but choose to stay outside," one Reddit user commented. "Some are not comfortable sleeping inside with other people, are afraid of violence in shelters and are afraid of having their belongings stolen."

But even if one individual living on the street isn't receptive, there are things that Philadelphians can do to aid the city's homeless population as a whole.

Many of the groups OHS works with accept donations. It has a list on its website. Although clothing, food and other wares are appreciated. Financial contributions are particularly valuable.

It's a good idea to reach out to these organizations before donating to make sure contributions are wanted and needed.

Code blue periods are not a good time to run to a random shelter and offer a helping hand.

"Volunteers inundating the shelter can perhaps cause more problems for the staff on hand,” Josh Kruger, the Office of Homeless Services' communications director, told the Inquirer.

Most shelters and other organizations providing services to the homeless need to vet their volunteers ahead of time anyway, he said. Go to the Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service's website to find volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood ahead of time.