No matter where you live, homelessness is a big problem. Even in the best circumstances, life is rough for those without permanent shelter. When temperatures reach extremes, both hot and cold? The results can be fatal.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, though, one surprising group is trying to do something to lessen the devastation that occurs when people are forced to stay outside for hours in the blistering cold. That's where these interestingly decorated telephone poles come in.
The bedecked poles began appearing on November 15th, courtesy of Tara Smith-Atkins, her eight-year-old daughter and her friends and other members of the community.
Halifax, where there are approximately 2,000 people experiencing homelessness, can be a particularly brutal place to be stuck outside. In January, the daily mean temperature falls to a frigid 24.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or -4.1 degrees Celsius).
When Smith-Atkins daughter Jayda thought about this grim reality, she knew she had to do something about it. The youngster, along with her friends and mother, began collecting donations of coats and other cold weather clothing to be redistributed to those in need.
On Jayda's eighth birthday, the group headed out with arms full of clothes, each with a tag attached.
The tags read, "I am not lost. If you are stuck out in the cold, please take me to keep warm!"
Smith-Atkins led the kids around downtown, where they tied, zipped and buttoned all the donated items to telephone poles, stop signs and anywhere else they could be readily found by their intended recipients.
"When we got back in the car after an hour on the street, they were all freezing and crying for the heater to be on and complaining because they were cold. And they were all bundled up," explained Smith-Atkins. "They definitely learned the importance of it."
The group made sure to leave items in a variety of sizes, too.
While many people assume that homeless people are adults, Halifax's fastest growing homeless population is kids aged 19 and under. In 2012, at least 285 members of Halifax's youth were out on the streets.
With more than 80 deaths each year in Canada attributed to over-exposure to cold, keeping as warm as possible is a life-or-death challenge for the homeless.
Having access to multiple layers of clothing can help shut out some of the cold. Scarves, multiple shirts and jackets over vests can be used together to retain some amount of body warmth.
While it might not have been a traditional birthday party for elementary schoolers, the girls certainly made a difference and learned a vital life lesson in doing so.
Hopefully these coats will find their way to people in need ... and people everywhere will do the same in their hometown this winter!