No cold shoulder: Columbia can give support in extreme weather

By Editorial Board

Chicago was swept under a blanket of snow Feb. 8 as Winter Storm Mateo blew through in the late hours, becoming the worst snowstorm this winter. By the evening hours of Feb. 9, 10 inches of snow had fallen in some areas. 

Before the snowfall began, city officials, the National Weather Service and local news outlets stressed the dangers that would come with the storm. 

During a Feb. 8 press conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel warned, “Make no mistake about it: This is a heavy snow, heavier than we have seen in a number of winters.” 

Chicago Public Schools heeded warnings and cancelled classes, making it the first time in more than three years the school district has closed due to inclement weather. 

Many Chicagoans who have experienced some of the worst of weather—including the 2014 “polar vortex” during which temperatures dropped to minus 16 degrees and the 2011 blizzard that dumped more than 20 inches of snow—were unfazed by what seemed like a measly 10-inch snow accumulation.

But nonchalantly viewing the storm as only a traveling inconvenience is dangerous because we forget the most vulnerable residents affected by severe weather.

A Naperville, Illinois, man in his 60s died after suffering a heart attack while shoveling the snow left by Mateo, according to the Chicago Tribune, and other weather events in the last year have shown how deadly winter can be.

In 2017, 26 people suffered from cold-related deaths, many of whom were older residents or homeless. With constant sub-zero temperatures,  Illinois ranks among the top five states with the most cold-related deaths per year. 

Chicagoans are proud of their ability to brave the toughest conditions Mother Nature has to offer, but that should not distract us from helping our fellow residents who lack  resources to face extreme weather.

The city of Chicago’s website lists six designated warming centers, but only one is in operation 24 hours a day. Although local nonprofit organizations do what they can to provide aid—and warmth—to those most in need, resources are too slim to ensure that the thousands of homeless people in Chicago are safe from the cold.

However, institutions like Columbia where students are expected to engage with the lively urban landscape can reach out to populations with often-ignored needs. 

Organizing collegewide donation drives, for example, is a simple way to provide resources to communities and show students how to make an impact. If the college wants to take its position as an open campus to heart, college buildings can serve as a tool to interact with and support others in the city by converting lobbies into additional warming centers or spaces for community engagement and volunteerism. This would also help to relieve some of the burden on already sparse and under-resourced local organizations. 

Especially because the college encourages social justice ideals such as diversity and inclusion, Columbia should make a substantial effort in encouraging students to open the campus to the greater Chicago community we are surrounded by every day.