Living on the streets is unimaginable. Those who care pretend to know, but we don’t really. You can witness it, read or hear about it, and condemn it, but it isn’t the same as experiencing the worst that life has to offer. Being homeless is to face despair and deprivation on the basest level. It is to live less than a half-life that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy.
Volunteers and city officials work hard to ameliorate the prevailing conditions as best they can, but it is unending. Nevertheless, you plug onward. Sometimes they can’t make more than a dent in progress, which becomes more than frustrating. They toil to provide food and clean water, some shelter and other basics for personal use. It is particularly bad during harsh weather. That can mean extreme and icy cold or by contrast blistering heat. Neither is tolerable while you are on the street and exposed to the elements, such as they may be.
An example of the kind of attention it takes to keep the homeless afloat on a subsistence level is to bring much-needed supplies appropriate to the time of year. These are usually donated by kindly souls or are purchased by charitable organizations. One such item that seemed to make a real difference recently was a small portable icemaker. It was so hot that week and brows were literally pouring with sweat. Losing water is dangerous, as you know, and most of the time you can replenish it with bottled water if available. But you also have to address body temperature. The homeless wear whatever clothing is on hand, and it is not always lightweight in summer or heavy and concealing in winter. Everything happens at random it seems on the street.
The icemaker was such a real godsend. People were surprised by the gesture and then openly thankful. They shared it and made sure that all in the “camp” had some ice through the day. It was a wonderful respite for the high temperatures. Volunteers continued to circulate it for a couple of days until the end of the heatwave. It provided a kind of relief that was unimaginable in that situation. Only a fan would have been the equivalent and there was no place to plug one or more in. The icemaker was battery operated, portable, and therefore extremely utile.
Those who don’t live near the homeless have no idea of the suffering that goes on. They assume it is always a matter of lack of food, but there is so much more to making life bearable. Food is fortunately available at public shelters, and we have all encountered those who beg in better neighborhoods for a handout. Continued efforts, however, have to be made to supply the homeless with other necessities of life. So if you have a working portable icemaker, and can spare the ice for your evening round of drinks, by all means donated it to a very worthy cause. We really take things for granted in our affluent society; but now it is time to give back.