This is the second in a three-part series on staying warm this winter. Read part one here: How to beat rising household energy costs
June sits on the steps of New York City’s Penn Station, bundled tightly against the cold.
The 74-year-old retired infant nurse from Trinidad, who prefers that her last name not be used, wears a red sweatshirt with the hood up, a puffy black jacket and a colourful knit scarf wound around her neck - all clothes she got from free clothing drives.
She rouses herself to accept a cup of warm baked ziti from two outreach volunteers, her eyes shielded by a pair of dark sunglasses due to her recent treatment for cataracts.
Inside the Manhattan train station - a huge structure through which about 600,000 commuters move every day - people rush in all directions, the scene almost reminiscent of a fast-moving film with the frames sped up.
But among the commuters are people like June - those not moving but instead looking for a warm spot to sit and shelter from the city’s razor-sharp wind that could almost knock one’s breath out.
The particular set of steps where June sits near the New Jersey train is her usual spot. She sits up to eat the pasta with a plastic spoon, keeping her shades on while passengers bustle past.
Behind her, another unhoused woman - whom June describes as a friend, though she laughs upon realising she does not know her name - also has scarves and layers wrapped around every inch of skin, including her face. She snoozes, sandwiched between a rolling suitcase and the marble wall.
“It’s tough” to sleep in Penn Station, June says. “Especially with the police. The police harass. Yes, they’re harassing the homeless.”
Just around the corner from June, an officer from the New York Police Department (NYPD) tells a young man he cannot sleep on the steps.
It is very cold. Outside, dry snow is falling. Tonight is a “code blue” night when the city activates an emergency notice for below-freezing temperatures, which simplifies the shelter intake process and is meant to ramp up outreach efforts.
In 2021, 16 homeless people died due to cold in New York City. At least one shelter has expressed concerns over how quickly their centres are filling on cold nights in light of rising homelessness rates in the city, which are at their highest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, a not-for-profit advocacy group, there were 67,150 homeless people, including 21,089 children, sleeping each night in the city’s main municipal shelter system in November last year.