Nothing makes the value of having a warm place to live clearer that a stretch of arctic weather like the one we’ve just experienced.
Usually, the weather in Anne Arundel County is moderate, with the average temperature over several years in the mid-30s. That might seem pretty cold, but it’s warm enough to make sleeping outdoors for the homeless population possible, if not preferable.
The last few weeks of overnight lows in the 20s, teens and over the weekend single digits have made it not only uncomfortable but potentially deadly. Social services and public health workers have noticed that most of the tent camps around the county are empty, those who normally won’t — or can’t — seek help through a shelter are off the streets.
For that, we have to thank groups such as Arundel House of Hope, Winter Relief, the Light House Shelter and Sarah’s House.
In particular, the professionals and volunteers who make the county’s Winter Relief possible deserve praise. Coordinated by the Arundel House of Hope, the program relies on 70 area churches to keep the homeless safe. Three churches at a time open their doors on a rotating basis, some churches pitching in more than once a year.
Last year Winter Relief served 239 individuals, most for multiple nights, and served 45,489 meals.
Some of Anne Arundel County's homeless also take shelter from the frigid temperatures during the day at the Arundel House of Hope Day Center in Glen Burnie, where they can get a meal, shower and get a few supplies, like a limited amount of coats and gloves.
As Chris Thomas, who’s has been homeless for about four years, told Staff Photographer Paul Gillespie on Friday: “This cold, it’s brutal, actually brutal. We were out there, my wife was in tears it was so cold.”
It’s not just those who help the homeless who deserve credit for helping others get through a rough patch of weather.
Crews from the Coast Guard, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Guard have made sure people trapped by ice on Smith and Tangier Islands can get food, and to shore if necessary.
Anne Arundel County firefighters have responded to numerous house fires during the cold weather, many of them related to problems with heating systems. American Red Cross and other volunteers have helped with finding those who need it shelter.
There undoubtedly are less high profile offers of help, among neighbors family and friends.
Temperatures this week are predicted to climb to a more normal chilly. But winter’s a long way from over — freezing rain is in the forecast Monday night. We still have the usual snow events in February and March ahead of us.
The natural urge is to hunker down someplace until spring. But for those who brave the cold to provide help — thank you.