The polar vortex has consumed Minneapolis this past week and brought record breaking cold temperatures to campus. Our classes were canceled and, though many of us kept warm at home, some did not have that luxury. On campus, it isn't uncommon to come across people who have no place to stay at night.
As of Jan. 29, 1,655 people were in emergency shelters in Hennepin County, which includes 530 people in families and 60 youth.
When temperatures reach 54 degrees below zero, including windchill, it takes as little as 5 minutes to develop frostbite symptoms. Homeless individuals run an even higher risk of developing frostbite in these extreme conditions when they do not have or are not provided with the right resources.
On a campus as large as ours, the University of Minnesota and its community members should provide more resources to those who need extra assistance during the winter season. The University emphasizes outreach as a part of its mission and does community work across the state to combat different issues. With the issue of homelessness right in our own backyard, there is a greater need to take care of our own community as well.
University student group Helping Hands provides resources for homeless women in the local community. Students groups that see this as an issue and take the initiative to create change in our community are setting the standard for what should be done, especially during the winter.
If students can find time out of their schedules to help a vulnerable population, the University should be meeting that effort, too. Not only should the University have resources targeted to homeless students, it should also provide an outlet with information for those who are homeless who find themselves on our campus. Students are the University’s main concern, but we cannot neglect the Twin Cities community that we, geographically, are a part of.
Youthlink is an organization that provides resources for teens and young adults in our community, and, most importantly during our winter season, finds them a warm place to stay. It has opened its doors for 24 hours to youth and young adults who have no place to go during frigid temperatures. Young people are met with warmth, a hot meal and resources to find them more permanent housing, which is crucial during a Minnesota winter.
In 2006, the city of Minneapolis adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness. While this is an overall policy meant to gradually help the city, these sub-zero temperatures should heighten the urgency in the city and on our campus. The issue is not easily fixed overnight. However, when we know the severity of Minnesota’s seasons, it's important to act quickly.
There is no easy way to fix homelessness. But when extreme weather conditions put lives at risk, our communities need to put in extra effort to help those in need.