Last winter, 221 homeless people died from exposure to the cold on the streets of Seattle, one of the highest numbers on file for the city. These grim data should not get worse this year as Omicron continues to spread and incoming Mayor Bruce Harrel seeks to deliver on his campaign promise of eradicate encaitems Through the city.
And lately the weather in Seattle has turned cold. Extremely cold.
“We’ve seen a lot of people on the verge of hypothermia who are barely getting out of it,” Meadow, a support worker, said in an interview with Hyperallergic. The worker preferred to use a pseudonym to protect her identity, saying her group was under attack from police and far-right groups.
“You know, blue lips, just unable to catch their breath because they’re so cold,” Meadow continued. “And we try to get people into cold weather shelters, but they have capacity and they’re not open all day.”
The Seattle neighborhood self-help group, of which Meadow is a part, was formed during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 and has since been helping homeless neighbors by providing medical care and hot meals, among other methods. harm reduction, such as distributing Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
During a recent snowstorm, the group distributed baked potatoes daily, wrapped in foil, which could serve as temporary heating if stuffed into a sleeping bag.
Heater Bloc concocted a do-it-yourself, tent-friendly heater made from copper tubing, a mason jar, epoxy, and a wick t-shirt, among other affordable materials, for a total cost of $7.
“It was really an iterative design,” a member of the Heater Bloc collective who preferred to remain anonymous, told Hyperallergic in a conversation via Twitter. “Members of our group have been working for years on different ideas to help keep homeless people warm. This year we wanted to do better and started researching and testing different models.
Instead of propane, the heater uses isopropyl alcohol as fuel. This reduces the risk of fumes causing carbon monoxide poisoning when the flame goes out if the heater tips over.
“The Burner is quite an old technology, but no one has really focused on making it useful,” the Heater Bloc collective member added. “It was kind of a fun engineering gimmick to experiment with on a free weekend.”
With cost of propane tip up to 44% Due to pandemic-related supply chain issues, many homeless people are returning to burning garbage or wood to stay warm, which can be toxic.
According to Heater Bloc, the last step in the design was to figure out how to safely contain an open flame in a tent. The solution they came up with is to build a metal enclosure around the radiators and cover it with terracotta pots as lids to provide radiant heat.
Heater Bloc has made its design open source and accessible through a Google Docs which includes a detailed construction guide. Meanwhile, self-help groups across the country have adopted and innovated on the original design, the collective said.
“It took us a while to really figure out how to build them well enough to teach someone else,” the collective member said. “We tried to make the instructions simple enough for anyone with basic tools to understand how to make them.”
During the winter, homeless communities will often experience an increase in overdoses, street fights, and forced co-sleeping to stay warm, which can lead to more COVID-19 infections in encampments.
But thanks to DIY heaters, Meadow said, “we saw less forced co-sleeping, which reduced people’s exposure to COVID, as well as fewer overdoses and less drug use in general. And now homeless people have started cooking with it, as well as staying warm! She added that her group and others have distributed more than 120 heaters to homeless people in the Seattle area over the past month.
Meadow, herself a formerly homeless person, believes little that the city would be able to respond to the escalating homelessness crisis the way self-help groups and anarchist collectives can: by building trust with down to earth, being nimble and finding creative ways to solve problems.
“We are non-hierarchical. It gives everyone the opportunity to be heard, to play to their strengths and try new things,” she said. “[This] that’s how we get to things like Heater Block.