District Homeless Population Helped by Hypothermia Outreach Team

Georgetown students, faculty and staff have joined forces with a local outreach organization to help keep Washington, D.C.’s homeless population warm during frigid winter nights.

The Hypothermia Outreach Team (HOT), a collaborative effort between the university’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ) and the Georgetown Ministry Center (GMC), helps prevent unsheltered individuals from getting too much exposure to the cold and encourages them to seek safety in available shelters.

“The goal of the team is to provide direct services to prevent deaths in severe inclement weather,” says Ray Shiu, associate director of CSJ. “GMC itself does outreach but they can’t do it every single night. The idea is to supplement their good efforts and the work they do with the high interest of Georgetown student, faculty and staff volunteers.”

CSJ activates the outreach team whenever the District of Columbia issues a hypothermia alert.

The HOT members then gather at the CSJ office to gather supplies, such as blankets, gloves, hats and food, before canvassing an assigned route designed by GMC.

HOT formed in January 2014 when CSJ was investigating ways to better serve the homeless population in the Georgetown and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods and increase collaboration with their community partners – especially GMC.

More than 25 Georgetown students originally were trained to serve on the outreach team, with about 150 Georgetown students, faculty and staff now ready to help and interest in the program growing.

“We’ve been so happily overwhelmed this academic year with interest from our community,” says Shiu. 

According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the District of Columbia had 7,748 homeless residents – 1.2 percent of the city’s population – in 2014.

The HOT volunteers usually reach out to 10 to 20 people experiencing homelessness during each outreach session.

“They’ll approach men and women experiencing homelessness, assess if they are adequately dressed and have what they need for the night,” Shiu explains. “But at the same time, the outreach team will encourage them to go inside and utilize the resources the District of Columbia has to offer, such as emergency shelters and warming centers.”

Sarah Sohlberg (NHS’16), a student coordinator for the team, says the group serves a very important purpose – ensuring the safety of Washington, D.C.’s at-risk homeless population.

“The issue of homelessness in Washington is not trivial and it’s not going away,” says the international health major. “Through HOT, we want to ensure that people in our surrounding community are reeving the resources and help they need to survive through the winter, which is the least we can do.”

This story was originally posted by the Georgetown University Office of Communications.

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