People Are Going to Die Tonight
I feel sick
It was real cold in Denver today. I wasn’t really prepared. I was just planning to go to an interview and help my friend clean out his apartment, so I was wearing a dress shirt and a coat. Around three or four, my friend told me that Food Not Bombs was planning to set up a table and feed the homeless. So, we carried a desk into his vehicle and I took a big gym bag of his clothes into mine and we drove over.
I had been feeling the snot freeze in my nose just walking a few blocks to get lunch. When we got to the usual spot, the sun was already coming down. The sidewalks were fenced off, maybe to make it easier to enclose people camping outside and tear apart their lives, as I had seen many times before when I used to go to the morning “sweeps.” I parked my car awkwardly next to a fence and started to carry the gym bag over to our usual spot. I hollered over to a group of people huddled around a fire to let them know we were setting up food.
We had hand and toe warmers set up, but no tables yet. I was worried people wouldn’t want to leave their fire and recommended we take some of the clothes and warmers over to them. I was wrong. People did come over, and as we set up the table, a man came whimpering to us “it hurts so bad.” My hands were already starting to hurt, so I took two of the hand warmers and stuffed them in my warehouse gloves. It took unbearably long for them to get warm, and it never did reach my fingers.
The table was set up, soup and rice were brought over, and a woman came over with hot cocoa in a plastic cooler. I started serving cups of rice and soup, and when I spilled the soup over my hands, it felt nice and warm. People started crowding in, to help and receive help. An old man with no gloves got in line for some soup, and told us we were special. I didn’t beam positivity back. I was starting to get angry that anybody was being left out in this bitter freeze. We shouldn’t have had to be special.
Eventually, there were enough people that I was getting pushed out and left with nothing to do. Me and a friend from Lebanon, who was also unprepared and had had to take a few coats from a friend, were standing around freezing. His toes were starting to hurt, and he was very happy to hear we had toe warmers. We had only been outside for a few minutes, and already I was at a breaking point.
I went around asking people if they had enough people, and everyone said yes. I told them I was really happy to see them again, as I hadn’t been to Food Not Bombs for a while. I was heading out. I gave my friend a hug and told him I’d see him tomorrow.
Walking back to the car, the snow was deep and cold and wet enough that my feet noticed. There was a man sitting on the sidewalk. No gloves. I asked him if he needed hand warmers. He said sure, but he already had some and wanted to make sure I had extra. I told him there were more hand warmers on the corner and he still wanted to make sure I had some. I told him I did and slipped the packets out of my gloves and dropped them in his hands. I told him to have a good night and went to the car.
Going without those hand warmers even for a few feet made a huge difference. I couldn’t get in the car fast enough. My vehicle was warmer than any fire, and I got to drive off to my home, where it was even warmer. I had been thinking all day about how blessed I am to have a warm and safe place to go at the end of the day. Some people don’t have that. They will be out in the cold all night, and all day, and the next night and the next day. If they have a tent, they will have to keep it moving and make sure they don’t leave it unattended, in case the city decides to dump it out while they’re gone.
Hopefully, we made enough of a difference that the people we helped tonight will make it to the next day. Driving home, I was perfectly aware that somebody in some alleyway was going to freeze to death tonight.
I have to wonder. What’s the point of all this? What’s the point of the fast food and the theme parks and the two day Christmas delivery, if we can’t keep people from dying alone on the streets during a freak cold snap? Why do so many corporations keep the lights and heat on in empty buildings, while people lose fingers and toes outside their doors?
It’s really not hard. In case of a cold snap, the city should buy hotel vouchers and set up anyone who needs a place to stay for the night. We did it during COVID. The capacity is there.
Housing first works. If you give people a place to stay, they spend time doing things other than trying to find food and shelter all day. They can get the support they need to work on mental health, drug addiction, finding a job. You don’t have broken bottles and used needles lining the sidewalks and gutters. You don’t need anyone to defecate in an alleyway. You don’t have to fund a daily task force of sanitation workers and police officers to chase homeless people around the city, trashing the few things they own, rotating them from block to block like some perverted agriculture, exhausting the soil in one area before scattering them to the next.
People are going to die tonight. I feel sick. But I’m warm and tomorrow I’ll be fine. Thousands of people in the richest and most powerful country on the planet are not doing fine. They will not be fine tomorrow. They will not be fine a month from now. Not unless we do something.