Most people agree room temperature is 72° F, give or take a few degrees for personal preference. That’s been the temperature for most of the rooms where I’ve spent my time sleeping and brushing my teeth and reading and taking tests and eating lunch and everything else I’ve done indoors over the years. It’s pretty consistent across places and seasons. The thermostat in my old high school classrooms in Mississippi in the dead heat of August reads roughly the same as the one in my living room in Chapel Hill in the coldest snap of the brand new year.
I was profoundly thankful for that this morning when I bundled up to venture out into an 8° morning. I started the car as quickly as I could and sat for a minute thinking about how seat warmers are basically the height of luxury. The way to this girl’s heart is absolutely through my body heat. There’s a reason Matthew’s go-to gifts for me are blankets and fuzzy socks.
For many people, though, the relief of hearing the heater cut on as you doze off at night is just a distant memory. Many of my neighbors in Chapel Hill, and even more of our neighbors across the country and the world, woke up today in crowded shelters or tents in the woods or on the street. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know any of these innumerable homeless folks by name who I could ask directly about that experience, but maybe that’s a bit of my point. I like to think if I did, they wouldn’t be homeless for long. I think Jen Hatmaker said it best when she wrote, “I’m tired of calling the suffering ‘brothers and sisters’ when I’d never allow my biological siblings to suffer likewise.” If any friend or family member hit times so hard they were going to lose the roof over their heads, I would want be one of the first people to offer a spare room and some extra money and write letters of recommendation for new jobs… I would do everything I could to keep them safe, right? We all would. But somehow we haven’t.
We (read I) am insulated from bearing the weight of specific names and faces and stories because I have lived a life of privilege that has naturally brought me into contact primarily with other people of privilege. By privilege I don’t necessarily mean rich and living a life of ease. I mean enough money and security to pay the rent or mortgage, get enough food, hold down a decent job, go to the doctor when we need to, see the occasional movie and take the occasional trip. These are privileges not experienced by the majority of the people roaming the earth with us.
As I sat feeling the ever-increasing warmth of the seat climbing up my spine this morning, I felt pangs of guilt and helplessness rising with it. I wanted to be able to make it right, to keep everybody warm. I wanted to apologize for my own comfort when others go without. But I can’t. And honestly, that’s not my place. I’m nobody’s great white hope, I’m just their sister.
So maybe it’s time I start acting a little more sisterly.
Sentiment aside, what can I do today to make life a little easier for those who aren’t living a room temperature kind of life?
Here a few options:
Shelters just about everywhere in the U.S. are almost universally in need of these items and more, especially in the winter :
- Several sources I checked have listed socks as the number one most requested item at many shelters because of how quickly they wear out for folks who spend so much of their day walking to where they need to go
- Sturdy, durable, closed-toe shoes
- Again, think of the insane amount of walking involved in homeless life–to shelters, to the library to access the internet, to food pantries, to churches, to social services offices, to bus stops…
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- New or very gently used clothing
- This is a great place to share small sample sizes or unused hotel toiletries you may have lying around
- Durable backpack
- Towels and washcloths
Check out these posts for other ideas:
- From Kevin Barbieux, an advocate who’s experienced homelessness himself
- From the National Coalition for the Homeless
We are surrounded by volunteer opportunities at local shelters, churches, and nonprofits that serve homeless folks. Can we make a pact to go by and volunteer at least once this year? You and me, we’ll do it together. We can be as awkward and clueless and out of our element as we feel, we just have to show up and do what’s asked of us. It’ll be great. You in?