I didn't arrive at the parking lot until just before 6pm. I was wearing many layers of clothing, including snow pants over jeans, so I must have looked like the Michelin man as I waddled out of my car. The temperature was around zero, and the wind chill around -15. Julie, Jeff, Mike, and Brent were already at the van. One homeless person had already visited.
Tom and Lisa from Altoona United Methodist arrived and dropped off supplies, including food and a big box of hand warmers. Thank you both!
It was a long time before anyone else showed up. After what I'm guessing was 20 minutes, four men arrived at almost the same time. We handed out bags with more snacks than usual and added extra hand warmers. One of the four was the well-spoken gentlemen who often sleeps in his car because he doesn't like the noise and commotion of the shelter. (We see him quite a bit, and I suspect I will write about him more, so I'll call him YG.) One of the others was the ever calm and grinning JF, who didn't seem bothered by the cold at all. Mike was chatting with JF, and I was talking to YG. YG indicated to me that he was waiting to talk with Mike in private, so I quickly tried to convince him to stay in the shelter the whole night tonight--we were all worried he would try to spent tonight in his car in this brutal cold--and then I got Mike. JF and I started talking and had a long conversation.
JF was puzzled by the small number of people waiting outside the shelter. He told me that a night or two ago the shelter was packed--he got the last top bunk (evidently the bottom bunks are prized and go first) and other people had to sleep in chairs. There were a lot of new shelter residents, he said, that appeared with the recent cold snap, which made him all the more confused by the lack of people tonight. JF ran through a long list of places people could be waiting to keep warm and ruled them out one by one. I asked about a few other places and he explained why they wouldn't be there. He knew the closing times of each place, which ones would ask the homeless to leave, which ones would let you stay for a while if you bought a small coffee, which places didn't have a restroom, and which places had a restroom with enough stalls and privacy that you could quietly stay for a longer time to keep warm without the management throwing you out. I had a mix of pity and admiration. Pity that anyone had to live that way--going from place to place trying to keep warm, and admiration that he could work this system so knowledgeably and so skillfully. JF himself had just come from the library, with several stops along the way, but there had only been a couple of other homeless folks there when he left. He finally gave up trying to solve the mystery and we talked a bit about his job at a thrift store, which has been going well.
My nose was now getting very cold--all the rest of me was bundled under many layers--so I adjusted my scarf to cover my mouth and nose. My nose felt warmer, but now when I breathed my glasses fogged over. JF and I laughed at this--he was wearing a hooded jacked with the lower part of the hood covering his mouth, had the same problem, although not quite as bad.
JF crossed the street to wait for the shelter to open, and we had no visitors for a while. Eventually another familiar man stopped by. He has had a part-time job for two years, and usually--I just learned from him today--sleeps in a sleeping bag in an unheated shack behind his place of work. When it is too cold--like tonight--he comes to the shelter. It's too hard, he said, to put on icy cold boots when you have to get up in the bitter cold.
We had a few other visitors, and then the shelter opened. I counted only fourteen people waiting. It is often the case that many homeless wait wherever they can in warmth until the last minute and therefore get missed by my count. Still, I was still surprised by such a small number. I hope that's a good sign that many have found other housing. We packed up and left a few minutes after 7 as folks entered the shelter.
Please pray for, and care for the poor.