So I have sat outside selling brownies and talking about the homelessness problem the last two weekends. Boy, there's no better way to connect and empathize with people who live on the street than to sit outside for extended hours. I arrive at 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays, and it's about 5:30 when we're done -- still light this weekend, but probably dark in a week or two.
The temperature in Portland has been mostly in the high 40s, light jacket weather. Yesterday we had several hours in the 30s, lots of rain, and a little hail. The wind only gusted a little, so I was reasonably dry for a good part of the day. I was wearing a shirt, a sweater, an apron, and my jacket, about as bundled up as I could manager. I take a thermos of hot water and sip tea throughout the day. The seat of my pants was wet from repeatedly sitting on my little chair in the corner of my booth. My tablecloths got quite soggy, but I was able to keep the products dry, for the most part. I'm getting used to my hair and my shoes being wet. And I'm lucky -- my kids have stopped by each of the four days, or arrived early to break down, so I can run to the restroom, or get something to eat. (Leaving the house at 6:30a.m., in the dark, I haven't yet thought to pack a lunch.)
With such good support, I haven't had a true stuck-out-on-the-street experience, but I'm starting to have a better awareness. My hands are perpetually cold. My fingers get numb as I try to twist the ties on the brownie bags, so I can only do a few at a time. My eight-foot square booth needs to provide space for customers to walk in, so I mostly sit as far back in the corner as I can. The canopy doesn't have sides, so I get hit with a good amount of rain, especially when a gust of wind lifts the canopy and the accumulated water pours off. My bad knees are aggravated by frequent standing and sitting and standing again, and the cold doesn't help my arthritis. All this is OK with me, because I have relief.
Driving home, we pass under the access roads to two of Portland's bridges. These are, apparently, prime real estate, because it stays relatively dry. There are a half dozen tents and several dozen people bundled in sleeping bags, multiple old jackets, or tarps. I try to imagine what it feels like, after a long day trying to make small sales, to huddle on the concrete as darkness falls, still wet and cold, with nothing but the clothes I'm wearing and an old tarp. I can't. I always know I'll be picked up by a family member. I'll sit in a warm car and get home to a warm house. There will be food. I love my bed, and my recliner, and my hot shower.
No, I can't really know how it feels to be on the street. I have too much support. Too many assets, choices, luxuries. I will never know what it really feels like, because I always have hope. Hope keeps me warm no matter what the weather does. I wish I could wrap hope in little packages and hand some out to everyone who has lost theirs.