The snow is one foot deep.
It graces the branches of trees.
It is beautiful and cold.
Some people sleep in tents, round hummocks topped with snow, some under one wool blanket. They don’t feel safe in the emergency shelters.
Over the years, I’ve known other houseless people who don’t feel safe in shelters. Braving cold, darkness, rain, and snow is often preferable to sleeping cheek by jowl with other humans who may do them violence.
And yet, they are houseless, on the street in the first place because our culture as a whole has done violence toward them. We have not made room for care, preferring money over inclusion, and punishment over community.
I shoveled my walk this morning, and my neighbor’s too, because he’s been ill with a high fever. Tomorrow, I may shovel the walk of the old man down the street if he still needs it. I can’t make it downtown to offer more warmth to the street sleepers, but I can shovel walks for those unable to.
After shoveling for an hour, I leaned the broom and orange handled shovel against the porch railing.
And there was the sparrow, seal-brown feathers puffed out and soft, lying dead on the blue planks. Did it seek shelter from the snow on our porch, and die from the cold?
A woman died from exposure in this city last week. She was found naked in a parking garage downtown. It is said that one of the stages of hypothermia is the feeling that you are burning up inside.
People undergoing hypothermia often remove their clothing, trying to get relief. When the body reaches this state of heat loss, the heart often simply stops beating.
The woman’s name was Karen Lee Batts, she struggled with mental illness, and was evicted from her apartment in a disabled housing complex for owing $338 in back rent.
She’s one of four who’ve died outside since the cold arrived in Oregon this month.
Whenever we hear someone say that the poor don’t work hard enough, or that charity is justice, that shelters and soup kitchens are good enough, that basic income, health care, education and housing are not rights, but privileges for those savvy enough to work the systems of empire…I want us to pause, and ask if in our hearts, we feel these statements to be true.
And I want us to recall Karen Lee Batts, who died alone at age 52 for the lack of 338 dollars.
I want us to recall Maria Fernandes, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, who was only trying to get a little rest by napping in her car between the three jobs she worked in order to survive.
Then I want us to recall the gold plated bathrooms. The thousand dollar dinners. The billions stolen. Millions exploited. And I want us to ask why the ultra-wealthy deserve more than Karen or Maria.
My answer is: They don’t.
My answer is: We need to restructure our values.
My answer is: There should be neither the extremely wealthy nor the impoverished. There is no reasonable excuse for either.
My answer is: Let’s break this fucking system and build the world anew.
Let’s build a kinder, more just, more compassionate place, where there are homes, and food, and schools, and care for all.
Meanwhile, I write this on a sleek machine made by people exploited and overworked half the world away. I listen to music on a device that uses material hand mined by children, and decimates the habitats of mountain gorillas.
Meanwhile, I have a warm home to return to tonight.
Outside, the snow continues to fall.
It is quite beautiful.
January 11, 2017
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