When the temperature drops to freezing or there’s cold rain and snow in the forecast, Vincent “Bones” Blackson and others like him at the United Planning Organization will drive a hypothermia van around the District to make sure people experiencing homelessness can stay warm.
This will be the 18th winter Blackson hits the road.
“We’re just like the police when they have all hands on deck. We do the same thing with inclement weather,” he says.
Known as “Bones” on the streets, Blackson says he knows not everyone who is experiencing homelessness wants to come off the streets even in the winter. So he brings what he calls comfort supplies with him whenever he goes out.
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“All kinds of comfort items: long johns, hats, socks, hand warmers, toe warmers, blankets,” he lists.
The United Planning Organization operates D.C.’s hypothermia hotline and transports as many as 70 people a night during the coldest months.
“People who do not have housing are particularly at risk. We are, in the District of Columbia, able to provide a safe, warm bed for anybody who needs it,” Laura Zeilinger, the director the D.C. Department of Human Services, said. "And so I want to urge everyone to be part of taking care of their neighbors and ensuring people are safe."
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You can help by calling 311 if you see someone who may need help getting out of the cold. The United Planning Organization also accepts donations of clothing and other items, as well as gift cards and even hotel rooms.
“When we able to get somebody off the street, it’s a wonderful thing, because that’s our goal,” Blackson said.