How a Montgomery Co. group helps keep people experiencing homelessness safe in cold weather

Bethesda Cares is a group founded in 1988 that aims to prevent and end homelessness in the county. (Courtesy Bethesda Cares)

A Montgomery County, Maryland, organization has been working this week to ensure the homeless population is aware of the snow and frigid temperatures so they are able to find refuge off the streets during potentially dangerous winter weather.

Bethesda Cares, a group founded in 1988 that aims to prevent and end homelessness in the county, has had staff members spread out across the county this week as the threat of snow and cold weather intensified.

Executive director John Mendez said the group’s outreach teams “have been out in the field pretty aggressively since last Saturday and Sunday.” They start reviewing weather patterns 10 to 14 days in advance, and observed this week’s weather in early January, he said.

“It’s life-threatening,” Mendez said of the impending weather. “This week is life-threatening for a lot of people.”

Some of the group’s staff members were out at 6 a.m. on Thursday, Mendez said, warning the unhoused that snow is on the way.

“Precipitation along with the cold is especially dangerous because that accelerates the risk of hypothermia,” Mendez said.

The goal, he said, is to warn people a day or two before the cold weather arrives. Staff also work to ensure there’s somewhere they can go “just to catch a break from how dangerous the severe weather is right now.”

The group engages with the homeless all across Montgomery County, Mendez said, and helps to connect them with housing.

“These folks are living day to day in survival mode out there on the streets,” Mendez said. “And so they’re not really looking at the forecast sometimes. We’ll print off copies of the forecast and get it to them.”

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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