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Homeless and Freezing in the NYC Winter: Can We Relate From Our Cozy Down Quilts?

Having spent 7 nights without heat in my cold apartment, I’m awed by those who have no choice but to camp out on the streets--especially at Christmastime

Homeless in NYC- Rev Stan. Photo: Flickr

The holiday season is an annual reminder of the kindness of strangers. When I moved uptown in the early ‘90’s, and before the city had made a concerted effort to find shelter for the many homeless men and women, a man who had most obviously suffered great loss in the course of his life sat on the corner of 88th and Madison. My daughter, who was then in her teens, would often come home late at night, sometimes in the early hours of morning. This gracious man would insist on accompanying her to the door, making certain she arrived home safely. We were often entertained by his guitar and his low and raspy voice, singing popular folk songs, hoping to solicit just enough money for food. It is also around this time that The Doe Fund* was founded. Its mission was intended to break the cycles of homelessness, addiction and criminal recidivism by providing holistic services of housing and work opportunities.

Fortunately, very few people whom I have known personally have suffered the loss of their homes, in spite of the millions throughout the country and the world, who have. And I myself have been inordinately fortunate. I can only imagine the hardship that it must entail. My only taste of such—and I can only call it discomfort in my case since I would not presume to compare myself with the true adversity of the homeless–occurred years ago when I arrived home after a weekend away, to a cold breeze running from one end of my living room to the entrance of my apartment. I naturally assumed that all that was required was to open the valves to allow hot air to begin its ‘hissing’ process.

George McDonald, Founder of The Doe Fund. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Although the valves were opened to capacity, warmth seemed elusive. Cold air immediately began to chill my bones. Maintenance in my building includes a tie-in with a heating company, negotiated and bought in bulk; reducing the monthly rate. Suffice to say, an unpaid heating bill was not the problem.

At the time, my building was undergoing a boiler replacement, and without the need for a total rehab, this major ‘surgery’ was being done in segments. The building had just celebrated its 80th birthday, and was beginning to suffer the very same limitations as other 80 year-olds. Hip and boiler replacements; knee, joint and plumbing disease; gnarled and sagging re-pointing issues – the list goes on.The section of the building where my apartment is located was undergoing this conversion; creating less warm air, insufferably cold air, with the understanding that this would be a long and ongoing process, despite the wave of arctic air that we were experiencing then.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, it proved to last what seemed an interminable week. I simply longed for the warmth of my ‘down comforter’ in my ‘king bed’, and knew that middle of the night bathroom visits would need to be strategically planned, and only if an emergency arose! I am pleased to report that my personal plumbing is still intact.

When this arctic surge occurred–indoors as well as out–I was forced to endure seven nights of total discomfort before I was informed that the worst of the building’s renovation had been completed. When the delightful sound of the radiators hissing began again, never had blowing hot air received such acclaim.

Although my tale may seem trite to some, it should be an awakening for those of us who have never been left in the cold—or who pass by homeless people on the New York City streets on a daily basis. It is also a reminder of the many homeless, like the gracious gentleman who walked my daughter home– who are forced to find shelter during winter’s subzero temperatures and still maintain their dignity and humanity. Just a thought for us to keep in mind, especially for the holidays……

*NOTE: The Doe Fund has helped over 23.000 homeless and formerly incarcerated men rebuild their lives. At this time of year, a wonderful reason to give back and one of the many charities that offer help to those less fortunate. Their motto; A bridge back to life.

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