Reimagining Government: Protecting Homeless Citizens from Severe Weather

During the recent bitter cold snap that gripped much of the country, civic leaders in Washington D.C.'s Department of Human Services extended the hours at existing homeless shelters, opened additional warming stations, and then got creative. The department partnered with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to borrow Metro buses to use as mobile warming shelters.

By seeing the larger mission of government as caring for people, not just as discrete tasks (operating homeless shelters, transporting people), these public officials quite literally saved the lives of those who resist going to housing shelters and are more comfortable in city buses. They provided an alternative to police officers rounding up the homeless and forcing them into shelters against their will. Homeless people were allowed to warm up in the heated buses and then return to the street, and then come back to the buses. Such "in and out" movements are often prevented in city shelters.

The Afro, a community newspaper in D.C., reported:

"I have never experienced something like this before, but I like this better than staying outside," said Kevin Williams, 40, who was among 208 homeless people who used the buses to stay warm on Jan. 23. "They feed us here, and I like the idea of coming in and out of the bus when I want to."
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