Hennepin County paramedics collect warm socks, hats and gloves to protect unsheltered people from frostbite

As temperatures drop with the onset of winter, the number of families experiencing homelessness in Hennepin County is up dramatically when compared with this time last year, and Paramedics and EMTs are seeing the toll firsthand. 

The latest Hennepin County shelter report shows 233 families living in shelters for the month of November, up from 217 for the previous month and 308.71% higher than the number of families living in shelters last November, which was 57. The numbers for single adults are down slightly month to month, dropping from 778 in October to 767 in November, but overall, the data continues to show that demand for shelter beds is greater than the space providers have available. 

"We see the impact day in and day out, through the winter months, because we pick up a lot of homeless population in Minneapolis who have medical emergencies or who are outside unsheltered," Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs (HCAPE) President Shane Hallow told FOX 9. "And those oftentimes result in life-altering, life-changing frostbite injuries that can lead to amputations, which leads to further long-term care and kind of a broader impact on those people throughout the rest of their lives."

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While this early winter has been relatively mild in the Twin Cities, Hallow says he already treated frostbite cases and is worried about what the coming months may bring. In response, the union is trying to raise awareness about their campaign to get essential warm winter clothing — socks, hats and gloves — to the most vulnerable people.

They obtain the items with community help — by either collecting donations via HCAPE’s foundation, which they use to purchase winter clothing and gear, or receiving the times directly through shopping lists at Target and Amazon

Union members then make winter clothing kits, which they carry in ambulances to distribute directly to unsheltered people. They also provide the kits to other agencies and non-profits that are engaged in outreach with unsheltered people. 

Hallow recognizes that providing unsheltered people with winter gear is not as comprehensive solution as providing these people with supportive housing, but is something that paramedics and EMTs can do now, with the public’s help 

"Being able to provide those the gear to these people so that they can be as protected as possible is our goal. And just to prevent those injuries. Even just having the right socks, hat and gloves coming in is going to help them," he said.