Washington DC

Finding Shelter in Cold Weather

Authored By: Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

FAQ

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that occurs when an individual's body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This condition results primarily from extended exposure to below freezing temperatures.

What does the District government do to protect homeless people from hypothermia?

A District of Columbia law called the Frigid Temperature Protection Act requires that "on nights when the temperature falls below 26 degrees Fahrenheit, the Mayor shall make available appropriate space in District of Columbia buildings and facilities for any person in the District who does not have any other shelter."

"Night" means the time between the hours of 6:00 p.m. on a given day and 6:00 a.m. on the following day. This law can be found at D.C. Code §4-731.

Under this law, on "hypothermia nights," anyone who does not have anyplace else to stay has a right to come inside the buildings being used for this purpose.

The District usually applies these requirements whenever the temperature or "wind chill factor" falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

How do I find out if it's a hypothermia night and how do I find out where to go?

You can call the Hypothermia Hotline at 1-800-535-7252.

What will happen if I call the Hypothermia Hotline?

The person who answers can tell you if it is a hypothermia night and can tell you where you can go to find shelter. If you cannot get to the shelter, the Hotline can send a van to pick you up and take you there. The Hypothermia van can also sometimes provide supplies like blankets, gloves, jackets, boots, hats and sleeping bags.

The Hypothermia shelters for single men and women are downtown and in various neighborhoods around the city. Families are sheltered on hypothermia nights at D.C. Village, a former nursing home in South West, or at the former D.C. General Hospital.

The Hypothermia shelters for single men and women are downtown and in various neighborhoods around the city. Families are sheltered on hypothermia nights at D.C. Village, a former nursing home in South West, or at the former D.C. General Hospital.

How long can I stay in a Hypothermia shelter?

For single men and women, some of the hypothermia shelters only open up on nights when the temperature or wind chill factor falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature rises above that level they will close until it gets cold again. Some of the other hypothermia shelters remain open and you can stay there if there is space. If the temperature stays below 32 degrees during the day, the District should make space available for people to warm up.

Families are generally allowed to remain at the hypothermia shelter until they find somewhere else to go or until March 31st.

 What should I do if I see someone staying outside on a cold night and I am worried about them?

Call the Hypothermia Hotline, 1-800-535-7252, and they should send someone to check on them.