It snowed in Portland. A lot. Like a historic amount. And of course, because our social safety net resembles a threadbare produce bag, a lot of folks are quite literally left in the cold. There are open warming shelters, but unlike those of us who are Extremely Online, people just trying to get by may not have this information readily available.
And that is where the rest of us come in.
I’ve encountered a lot of people who want to help — who want to be part of the solution, who want to reduce human suffering in some kind of way. But because they’re not career service workers (or even people who pride themselves on being social), they aren’t sure how. But they can! Not everyone will dedicate their life to helping houseless folks, but we can all do an absolutely tiny amount by helping to spread information.
Sometimes, the best thing you can provide someone who’s living outside is a little bit of information.
Say there’s a snowstorm. Even though you, yourself, won’t need to know the locations of warming shelters, consider looking at local news coverage or the Instagram or Twitter feed of your favorite street paper. Odds are they’ll have that information, which means you’ll have it, which means you can pass it along. And it doesn’t even have to be weird or condescending or paternalistic! You can just share information with someone who might need or want it!
This happened to me while I was out walking/skating today. I passed by a group of folks who asked the time. We got to chatting and I asked if they had a place to warm up tonight? They kind of shrugged and expressed prior unfortunate experiences with emergency shelters (which is fair — they’re not exactly comfortable and often come with a lot of rules or mandatory prayer). I told them that I totally got it, but that it was going to be below freezing again tonight, so just in case, this is a place to go. I knew it because I’d read an article earlier in the day and had noted the location of a very close warming shelter that wouldn’t turn anyone away. I gave it to them and then went on my way.
I had no money to give. I didn’t have my purse, so I didn’t have a pair of socks or a Luna bar. All I had was information, and that information may not have mattered at all. But in the event that it did matter, that they used it or even that they shared it with someone else, then it’s worth getting over our Housed People fear of being awkward.
Sometimes, the only thing we have to give is what we know. So, housed person reading this, consider expanding what you know. Then, offer it to people. They may not use it — but they also might need it.
Read more of the Mar. 1-7, 2023 issue.