WASHINGTON, D.C. — More intense severe weather events fueled by climate change are disproportionately impacting homeless Americans, who are already more vulnerable to the elements while living outside.
As the president of Central Union Mission in Washington D.C., Joe Mettimano sees how the weather dictates a lot of what they do, including how many people come through the doors. An average of 5,000 people rely on the shelter each month.
"People who are homeless, who prefer being outside, find it easier to sleep outside in the summertime versus cold and rain in the winter," Mettimano said.
The worse the weather, the more people who end up coming to shelters like this one across the country, looking for a dry or warm place to take refuge.
"People are people, and the weather impacts all of us in different ways," he added.
But climate change is creating more extreme weather events, putting those who are homeless in even more precarious positions.
America has experienced an urban flood event once every two to three days for the last 25 years. Climate change is only exacerbating the frequency of extreme flood events. The estimated 500,000 Americans who experience homelessness each year usually feel the impacts first.
"When there is more rain, more storms, more snowfall, hotter summers, it does put more demands on us," Mettimano said.
There’s a mental health aspect to all of this as well.
"It’s a very vulnerable place to be in. It’s also very dehumanizing when you’re sleeping in an alley and people won’t make eye contact with you, but the weather absolutely plays a role in all that. If you’re outside, you can sometimes find shelter under a bridge. It’s still cold. It’s still raining," Meetimano added.
To help those who are living out in the elements, Central Union Mission offers folks a wide range of preventative medical care from dental checkups to doctor visits, all for free.
"We save lives every day because of work like that," he said.