How many homeless will die this winter?

Levi Cummings didn’t die of old age. He didn’t die in an accident, and he wasn’t murdered. Cummings died because he was homeless.

He likely froze to death — the state medical examiner must still officially release the cause of death — last Thursday, a victim of the polar vortex and of his inability to afford a place to stay.

Cummings left behind his main companion, a dog named Baby Girl, and a bevy of goodwill in the community. “He was the kindest, sweetest man you ever met,” Glenn Blankenship, director of the Shawnee Rescue Mission, told the Shawnee News-Star.

Cummings’ death, like those of all homeless people who die from the cold, was preventable. However, he had the unfortunate luck of living in Shawnee, Oklahoma, a city ThinkProgress previously profiled as the worst city in America to be homeless. There should have been another shelter in Shawnee for people like Cummings, but the privately funded project was scrapped by the City Commission, whose chief owned numerous houses nearby and worried what would happen to his property values.

There are currently 578,424 homeless people living in the United States, a third of whom have no shelter at all. As temperature start to fall across the country, they are an extremely vulnerable population, even in areas of the country that don’t regularly see freezing temperatures like Oklahoma and California. More could soon suffer Cummings’s fate.
For example, seven homeless people died last year in California during a brutal three-week stretch as temperatures in the normally temperate Bay Area dropped to near freezing. Despite the spate of deaths, Santa Clara County officials closed the only local cold-weather shelter earlier this year and have struggled to find an adequate replacement.

Even the nation’s capital was not spared. Last year, two homeless people in Washington D.C., which has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, froze to death just miles from the White House.

Many cities have emergency procedures in place when temperatures drop in order to make more shelter available for people who are on the streets. But those procedures are often too restrictive to prevent otherwise-preventable deaths. For example, even though hypothermia can set in when temperatures are as high as 50 degrees Fahrenheit, many cities don’t open the doors to their winter shelters until temperatures hit freezing or below.

In Des Moines, as the National Coalition for the Homeless pointed out, temperatures have to drop all the way to 20 degrees, and in Baltimore it needs to hit 13 degrees with wind chill before winter shelter procedures are put in effect.


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Woman Awarded $186 Million After AutoZone Fires Her For Getting Pregnant

On Tuesday, a federal jury awarded nearly $186 million to a woman from San Diego who claimed AutoZone mistreated her because she was a woman, eventually demoting and firing her because she became pregnant.

The plaintiff, 43-year-old Rosario Juarez, had begun working as a customer service representative at one of the AutoZone stores in 2000. She was then promoted to parts sales manager in April 2001 and became a store manager in October 2004.

However, things changed when Juarez became pregnant with her first child in September 2005. When she told her manager that she was pregnant, Juarez claims he told her that he felt sorry for her. He also began to yell at her and mistreat her, even though her sales team continued to meet or surpass sales targets. Juarez was also told by the district manager that she should return to parts sales while she was pregnant because she couldn’t handle the demands of being store manager.

After the birth of her son, Juarez was demoted and her pay was decreased. After the demotion, Juarez was required to wait a year before seeking her former job as sales manager. Once that year had passed, she tried to re-acquire her former position only to be denied by the district manager and terminated in 2008. Juarez filed a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

During the trial, the former district manager who had fired Juarez admitted that he’d been encouraged to fire women in management positions by an AutoZone vice president. The vice president had said to him:

“What are we running here, a boutique? Get rid of those women.”

The seven-person jury, consisting of five men and two women, ruled that Juarez had been discriminated against and terminated because of her gender. The award includes $872,720 in compensatory damages and another $185 million in punitive damages.

According to attorney Sean Simpson, part of the team representing Juarez, this is far from the first time AutoZone has treated its female employees unfairly. He said:

“This is the third or fourth time they’ve been hit with punitive damages for doing the same thing. Let’s hope they get the message.”

Next week, AutoZone will go back to court with the intention of reducing the award. According to a company spokesman:

“We believe this verdict could not be based on the evidence or logic, and we plan to proceed with all legal remedies.”
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