By Logan Langlois
NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville experienced a dramatic arctic front this past December with temperatures falling below zero, wind chills in the negative double digits, and the state of Tennessee receiving a surprising amount of snowfall. These upcoming months are looking to be no different, with temperatures predicted to continue to stay within 30°F and 44°F in January and 33°F and 48°F in February, including incoming rainy and snow days. Under these predictions, several community outreach groups centered around homelessness have been gearing up to provide for those who are most affected by extreme temperature drops.
Cathay Jennings, the Executive Director of The Contributor, a bi-weekly newspaper that assists in community outreach, has expressed concern regarding the effect the approaching cold could have on the physical safety of the unhoused community.
“Last year there were a lot of sad cases,” Jennings said in a recent interview. “There was a man who died in a Porta Potty downtown … froze to death. He was in there trying to keep warm. There was a man who died under the train tracks, frozen to death.”
Jennings went on to detail that it’s not just problems brought on by the weather itself that worries her; re-existing problems within the homeless community which are exacerbated by the cold, such as physical or mental handicap, depression, and addiction are concerns also. Meredith MacLeod Jaulin, co-founder of outreach organization Shower The People, expressed in a recent interview some unique safety hazards winter months present.
“I think in the winter when it gets dark so early and our people are walking around, we have so many people who become victims of … being hit by cars. Just because people can’t see them crossing the road. So that’s one of the biggest issues we honestly deal with in the wintertime, is making sure our folks have something that’s reflective.”
To combat the cold, Nashville’s extreme weather overflow shelter is available to the public between the hours of 7 PM and 7 AM when outside temperatures reach 32°F or below. Unfortunately, getting to the shelter can come with its own set of challenges.
“We don’t have really easy transportation in Nashville,” Jennings elaborated. “We’ve got a great system set up, but it still takes forever … There’s lots of encampments on the outskirts … It can take you two hours to get to shelter, you know? So it’s like, if you’re going at 7 o’clock at night and then you have to leave at 7 AM, you get a bus pass to leave shelter but say it’s cold again the next night, you start the whole thing over again!… I mean most of us would hate doing that!”
Efforts are also being made by outreach programs such as Launchpad, which specializes in providing housing for homeless LGBT youth between the ages of 18-24 during the winter months of Nov. 1-April 1. In a recent interview, Launchpad’s Executive Director H.G. Stovall expressed how he wishes he could do more.
“It is Nashville but it’s still cold, and anytime we can get someone in off the streets for a safer sleep we have won. And that’s what matters,” Stovall said. “I deeply grieve that we are not yet in a place to operate year-round, but I hold out hope that that day is coming.”
For donations of anything from hand warmers to clothes, to cash, The Contributor can be reached at thecontributor.org, Launchpad can be reached at nashvillelaunchpad.com, and Shower The People can be reached at showerthepeople.net.