[Episcopal News Service] For the second straight year, Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C., is operating as a designated hypothermia shelter through the winter.
In Washington, “hypothermia season,” when unsheltered individuals are at most risk from dangerously low temperatures, lasts from Nov. 1 through March 31. Hypothermia alerts are activated when the weather, including wind chill, is forecasted to be 32° or below, or 40° or below if precipitation is likely.
On average, 30 men stay from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at Church of the Epiphany, located a couple blocks from the White House, where they are provided a blanket and a cot to sleep on, as well as dinner and breakfast. Narcan is also available on site for anyone suffering from a possible opioid overdose. The church operates as a men-only shelter in coordination with the D.C. Department of Human Services.
The Rev. Glenna Huber, rector of Church of the Epiphany, told Episcopal News Service that homelessness is a “huge concern” in Washington, citing a lack of affordable housing and entry-level jobs.
“Being able to open our doors means that there’s hopefully one less person who dies from hypothermia while sleeping on the street,” she said.
Homelessness is an increasing problem throughout the Washington region, surging by 18% between 2022 and 2023. On any given night, more than 3,700 people in the U.S. capital experience homelessness, according to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, an independent nonprofit devoted to providing housing resources to homeless people in the Washington area.
Huber said that the men who spend the night at Church of the Epiphany have the option to go across the street to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in the morning to hold their personal belongings in a locker, take a shower and eat lunch provided by World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization committed to providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate and community crises, including natural disasters.
Men who stay at Church of the Epiphany are invited to The Welcome Table, the parish’s Sunday morning hot breakfast program, where they may also charge their phones, chat and rest. Huber said that some of the men who regularly stay overnight at Church of the Epiphany are also parishioners.
Meryl Glidewell, Church of the Epiphany’s senior warden, told ENS that using the church’s building to serve as a hypothermia shelter is an example of “being good shepherds of our space.”
“For Epiphany, it’s a part of our core mission to be in relationship with people, to care for people,” Glidewell said. “This is a very tangible way for us to love and care for our neighbors where we’re located, where we can use the physicality of our space to welcome our neighbors and bring forward our mission and our relationship with people.”
-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at email@example.com.