by Beyond the Classroom Staff
Those of us in the Washington, D.C. region and elsewhere who are lucky enough to have heated homes and offices seem to have busied ourselves today by going online to talk about how cold it is outside. A sampling: The Washington Post live blogs the weather; #polarvortex trends on Twitter; NPR asks: “What is the polar vortex, and why is it doing this to us?”; The New Yorker compiles a slideshow of people “Surviving the Polar Vortex”; and– of course– the cold air brings with it impassioned Reddit debates on the relationship of the polar vortex to climate change on r/science.
Why are we being so dramatic about some cold air? Because a day like this one reminds all of us that we are at the mercy of the natural elements. It makes us confront our physical limits and our mortality, so we take to the internet and reassure ourselves through the act of making a weather event into just another grand spectacle for us to discuss and be amazed by. We’re creating a shared cultural experience– a cultural meme– and cataloging “fear of cold weather” as an unusual state of being: we know that this is a temporary situation, and that we will return shortly to our regularly-scheduled lives. In the meantime, we might as well get some entertainment value out of this weird weather, right?
There is one population in our community, however, who are the most at risk in this bitter cold and yet for whom today is ultimately just one day of many dangerous days: the homeless. When the polar vortex has left our part of the globe and our collective cultural consciousness, the homeless will still be engaged in the daily fight against the elements to survive. In recognition of this reality, Beyond the Classroom presents a collection of resources for taking immediate action to help the homeless; we also propose how the experience of (and hype around) extreme weather events like the polar vortex can serve as a catalyst for addressing homelessness more broadly.