Homeless people living on the street may need coats. Or maybe not.
Some are military veterans. Disproportionately many, I’ve heard. Vets likely got basic training in staying warm in cold weather. Vets or not, they may know more than most of us do about staying warm outside.
Communities of homeless people regularly facing deep cold likely share what they’ve learned with each other. They tend to watch out for each other’s safety and can easily pass advice around. (Sometimes they’re dangerous to each other and others, but usually not so much, and they’re often together for safety and community.) Their levels of expertise will vary.
— Ratty dirty clothing may be just as warm (or just as cold) as the same stuff that’s fresh and clean. Grease might compress insulation or might add to the insulating quality. Clothing that is badly in need of being laundered may contribute to disease, but if it’s not unhealthy then it may be okay for temperature. And the person wearing it may have become immune to some germs.
— Layering may make up for some problems with their clothing. If a coat has holes, layering may cure that.
— Newspapers, thick and stuffed under a shirt, can help.
— Cardboard shelters may not be so alarming. If they block wind, that may make the difference between dying and living. Corrugated cardboard has narrow air tubes, so it has some insulation value. Plastic bags can keep water out, especially for rain but not as reliably for puddles or hail. Plastic bags without holes can keep feet dry but also keep sweat in, leading to cellulitis, requiring frequent changes and foot washing as prevention.
Many will still have problems. By one estimate, 700 a year die in the U.S. from hypothermia, as of . Some drink or smoke. Staying still worsens cold. And being homeless interrupts sleep. They’ll be colder.
Most people who are homeless may still need material help, but it may be different. Ask first. You don’t have to agree with what they ask for, but they may have some of what they need and, as a result, maybe what they ask for is reasonable.