Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Help those suffering hypothermia

Outside my window I see all the snow falling, and it is beautiful. I am privileged: I live in a comfy apartment with working heat and electricity, and I have enough food to keep us going. My job is an office job which closes on schedule with the DC federal government weather closures, which means I did not have to brave the elements at all. As I type, coffee is brewing, and I'm still in my PJs.

I'm writing primarily to other privileged folk: those with extra money or time or both. This is individual and subjective, by the way. Some folks feel the pinch because they struggle to pay off their mortgage, while some of us think "but you have a mortgage!" We have this thing called the poverty line, but it's not terribly accurate. My husband and I were definitely under that line until recently, but we managed because of the goodness of other people, namely his school. Our lives did not look at poverty, and I didn't consider us "poor" - just broke. Many people are broke right now; it's a big club. Moreover, it's not all about money. You can't measure suffering.

But you can chose whether to look away or not.

As a Christian, I have the daunting and impossible responsibility to love my neighbor as myself, but what does that look like? Maybe it starts by acknowledging the suffering of others and choosing to be by their side. God doesn't require special skills, thankfully. He calls introverts who would rather read than serve at a soup kitchen. None of us are off the hook; we just all have different parts to play.

Right now, there are millions of people suffering. But that doesn't mean much does it? A number is one thing; a face is another. My friend Kathy (name changed) might be suffering on the street today, braving the cold, unless she was able to gain $35 from panhandling yesterday for a hostel. My friend Jennifer (name changed) might be going hungry because all her teeth were pulled out, so it's hard to eat the food provided at food pantries. Many may turn back to cocaine because damn it, wouldn't you turn to something, anything, to forget the pain of exposure during a snow storm? Many are packed like sardines into city shelters where their belongings are stolen and they risk assault; or they may decide that the cold at least won't steal their blankets. The choices for the homeless are few, and all come with price tags.

One way to help, especially if you live in or near a city, is to volunteer with church hypothermia shelters. In DC, Georgetown Ministry Center works with local churches who are willing to act in hospitality: to open their doors for a week and provide dinner and a warm place to sleep. Their number is (202) 347-8870 if you feel called to help. They need volunteers to prepare meals, eat and socialize with the clients, and (males only) sleep overnight. I highly encourage volunteering in a capacity that allows you to just sit and chat, for your own benefit.

Perhaps your city or town does something similar? If so, please consider volunteering in whatever capacity you are able. If not, talk to some people about what it would take to get one started, or what other creative means can be used. And remember: these are not nameless homeless. They have names, histories, families - many themselves are children and teenagers. They are human beings loved by God, and they deserve our love and respect as equal citizens of His kingdom.


  1. I am so glad our church and it's high school youth group participate in this type of thing! It's so important to put a face to suffering.

  2. Thanks for standing up and being an advocate for our homeless brothers and sisters. It's so easy (for me anyway) to fall into the out-of-sight, out-of-mind trap, and I appreciate the reminder to look for chances to help. I'm in Texas, so we get relatively few days cold enough for hypothermia to be an issue, but it does make me wonder if there are any church sponsored programs in the area that do what you described when it does get cold here.

    1. It's individual to the location. In Texas you may have more trouble with dehydration and heat stroke.