Homelessness in the Winter and places that can help


Tara Dilly, Staff Reporter

Have you ever had to stand outside to wait for the bus in the winter? Or walked from the car into a building and felt like you’re braving the cold arctic tundra? Many people in Wenatchee Valley are living on the streets and enduring the cold every day with nowhere else to go.

The homeless community in Chelan and Douglas counties has been increasing, but they have been utilizing homeless shelters more. In a count of the homeless population in Chelan and Douglas County in 2005, there were 231 homeless people in shelters with 29 percent being homeless for over a year according to the HUD McKinney January 2005 Point-In-Time Count. This count was conducted in an effort to create a 10-year plan to reduce the homeless population in Chelan and Douglas County by 50 percent. The annual HUD McKinney January Point-In-Time Count in 2010 showed that the homeless population grew to 542 homeless individuals, but the unsheltered population dropped to 8.6 percent.

The cold weather can take a huge toll on the human body. According to Harvard Medical School, cold weather narrows blood cells and increases the chance of a heart attack. “The cold weather brings a number of risks, especially for older adults,” said geriatrician Dr. Suzanne Salamon, an instructor at Harvard. Being outside after the sun has gone down in below-freezing temperatures has many negative effects on the body and can even turn fatal. With as many homeless people on the streets locally, an abundance of medical issues are bound to occur.

The Lighthouse is a soup kitchen that also provides food distribution and emergency and transitional housing. Inside, there are many people who know the struggle of living outside in the winter. “If you sleep outside without covers, you could fall asleep and not wake up,” said a Lighthouse attendee.

Donald Grigsby has lived on the streets many times throughout his life and has been homeless for the past 17 months. He graduated from Wenatchee High School in 1981, and many of his life experiences have been unusual. When Grigsby’s mother died, his life became a mess, he said. Grigsby started abusing drugs and began his life on the streets. Grigsby makes his money by selling crosses that he has whittled from wood, raking leaves and shoveling snow. Grigsby talked a lot about how homeless is not normal and that everyday on the streets is different from the last, making the point that living on the streets can be unpredictable.

There are plenty of community resources for homeless people to get a hot meal from or spend a night at in Wenatchee. Places like Lighthouse Ministries, Hospitality House, Haven of Hope, YWCA, WRC Housing and Supportive services, Sage and United Way have different amenities to offer some offer housing such as transitional housing or food. As community members, we can do a lot of things to help, from donating money and items that may be needed, to volunteering your time to help people who need it the most. Creating a more welcoming space for the homeless can bridge the gap between the two communities.