Sunday, December 16, 2007

FREEZING WEATHER OVERNIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS AND THE HOMELESS

The weather presenter on WDSU's evening forecast spoke of the 3 things needed to bring about sub-freezing temperatures: "dry air, light winds, clear skies". We've got all three tonight in the New Orleans area. We have had, since last evening at @ 7.p.m., a sharp drop of between 15-20 degrees. It has been a day of high brisk winds and cold temps for this area, as a cold front moves through.

Tonight it is bitter cold.

My last thoughts are of the people I "know" who are sleeping outside, some in tents, many not, many exposed to the elements (see slideshow in Saturday's posting) on a mattress, or a piece of cardboard on a cold slate of cement.

Zenobia, call me "LaMancha", Catherine, Mr. Rogers, Mark, and people whose names I do not know, but I have looked them in their eyes and have seen their pain. I have been in the only spaces they can claim as theirs, where they can pretty much sleep I (as much as you can when you are never safe) without being molested by those intent on malice.

While I was at "tent city" this morning, 2 men and a woman in a pick up truck pulled up. I was talking with a homeless man who owned a van but had no money to get gas to get work. He had sold the oil he had in the van for an oil change, when he had run out of gas money the other day. (He also immediately offered another homeless man a ride to the other side of town who came up to us after I had given him $5 for gas - a kind of caring for other that is common in this "tent" city).

As we were speaking, the pickup truck pulled up, they pulled in fast and all three of the people got out, one of them was in his doctors scrubs so he might have been on a break from the hospital. In the back of the pickup were 150 white plastic bags with red and white ribbon strips on them*. They began giving out bags to those closest to them, mistaking me for homeless (I still wear last years 'homeless' wardrobe as I have written previously, this is my first winter/fullyear in a 'home' for some years). I shared with them that if they took their bags to the outer perimeters first, that the people who slept there have it the roughest amongst everyone, as they are unprotected by shelter. They did so and then worked their way into the center of "tent city" where people who had tents were staying and the pavilion in the center where mattresses are set up on the floor for about 20 people.

* The bags had socks,underwear, canned food, toothbrush and toothpaste and snacks in them. They were perfect in meeting needs. Stacey who made up the bags was concerned it wasn't enough - I shared with her that when someone is homeless they are living from moment to moment, getting things that help in the "moment" is meaningful and the act of kindness lasts in the thoughts and consciousness for the whole day sometimes.

Stacey, the woman among the three, is a M.D. also. She works in town and has read about what is going on. She lives in the suburb of Metairie. She, her husband, and the other man with them, just wanted to help - to 'do' something. She told me she has so much and wanted to share with others. She told me that people whom she she told she was going to come and do this, warned her to be "careful" and beware of "mentally ill".

After spending some time in "tent city" as the bags were being handed out, she could tell there was nothing to be afraid of. I shared with her that this will be one of the sadder things of this area being prematurely fenced in - (as unpractical as it was and an embarrassment for the city and businesses) this space provided a way to access a lot of homeless people all at once and be able to help those in need in a safe, public environment, for both the homeless and those seeking to help.

Now many of these people will be scattered to the streets and under the highways, and in abandoned gutted houses. (As told to me by the people themselves). I have met a few people that have showed up hoping to hustle something out of the situation, but even they are living in some level of manageable poverty - no one comes to "tent city" because it is fun.

There numbers will seem less real as they are dispersed after December 21 (Winter Soltice). Then we will only 'see' the homeless here and there in public spaces or when they are asking us for some change.

I have met people in "tent city" whom I could not believe what my eyes were telling me - that they were homeless. The 2 couples I am thinking of told me that they came back from Houston where they were evacuated as they kept hearing stories telling them to 'come back' that there were jobs and housing for them. When they got here, they found out how untrue the information was and now the 2 couples are homeless. In a conversation with Mark this morning he said to me, "you don't have to be dirty to be homeless," which I understand. It is the need to maintain a sense of dignity through personal hygiene no matter the low state of your circumstances. And then his friend, Mr. Rogers told me, "we (husbands and wives) are not going to the homeless shelters. I asked him why not? "Too much preaching going on in exchange for the meal or shower?" "No", he said to me, "I am not going to a place where there are people selling their prescription drugs and are mentally ill." "I stand 6'3 and I have dignity. No, these 2 couples are not who you would expect to see surviving in such conditions and they will be on the streets as of December 21st. "I am not letting them throw me out until that date" Mark tells me.

They will all be very cold tonight.

Last night, before the temps dropped, I took over a box of 40 pairs of HOTHANDS that a friend of a friend of mine sent - I have never met "Janet" who sent them to be given out to help the homeless to stay warm. Her gift helped 40 people stay warm last night. When I saw people this morning few thanked me and some still had them in their hands. Many of the others were already gone for the day at their jobs.

I had 2 more boxes of the HOTHANDS coming but they were diverted by a computer glitch. This is part of the reason I wanted to write this post before going to sleep tonight. I feel so badly that 80 people missed out on a night of feeling some warmth in the bitter cold because of my computer mistake. The people who missed on an opportunity not to suffer as badly for a few hours during this cold bitter night - have faces, "stories", eyes and hearts. And tonight, they are lying on cold cement, or in the grass, or on an exposed mattress, or if they are lucky, in a tent.

I can see them, feel them in my heart. I know they are there and they are very cold. And these are just the ones I know of. This one group 200 doesn't even take into account those under highways and in abandoned houses who are in this freezing weather tonight. An estimated 12000 homeless in New Orleans post-Katrina and the levee failures.

As I have moved through my day today, I can see the white haired elderly man lying in his sleeping bag this morning lifting his head to me and smiling, waving fingers one hand, and saying "thank you" with eyes alight and a smile on his grateful face.

He is lying on the cold pavement tonight, freezing, with only a sleeping bag to protect him.

I know that he is hoping sleep will help him escape the cold, even as the cold invades his sleep.

I will see him until my mind quiets and I fall asleep.

His suffering will continue throughout the night as I sleep soundly and warmly.




IN PEACE.
Prayers for the suffering.

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