Monday, January 2, 2012

A Roof Over My Head

Last night it finally happened. We got a night of bitter winter cold. It was a long time in coming this winter, not arriving until January, and it's predicted to be at least temporarily fleeting as temperatures creep upwards again, but there it was.

Weather Underground will say that the conditions in Watertown last night showed a low temperature of 28 degrees, wind gusts up to 37 miles, and no precipitation. I have two things to say to that. First, don't tell me there was no precipitation. Snow was absolutely coming down, blowing sideways at that. It may not have been the heaviest snowfall, only barely enough to cover the ground and even then leaving the occasional blade of grass to poke out its head as a reminder of our unusually mild winter, but it was snow nonetheless. Second, the numbers, on a night like that, don't adequately describe the conditions. There is no weather statistic for 'bitter'. There is no statistic for "howling". You can only rely on feel to obtain those descriptions, like it was in the days when people were forced to predict weather through animal behavior and popping joints.

Whenever I observe a night like that- when you can hear the wind, when the cold seeps weakly through the walls of your house as the snow makes its futile attempt to batter them down, when the windows are frigid to the touch- there's one thing I find myself saying every time, almost to the word. 'This is one of those nights where you're glad you've got a roof over your head.' In fact, I said it right here last winter.

Of course, you ought to be glad every day that's the case, but typically, in milder weather, you don't really think about it much. Unless you've actually spent time homeless, you're probably not spending a May night where it's 68 degrees outside and it was sunny all day long being glad for a roof. In fact, in those conditions, there are some people who will deliberately spend the night outside. But on nights where the light fades early, when the dull roar of the wind aches to make itself heard, when you're chilled almost to the bone the second you step outside, and nobody really wants to go outside for anything because of that, I for one become a whole lot more grateful to be able to not be outside.

Imagine spending the night out in that. Just one night, let alone for now every night. The closest I can come is the November night I spent waiting in line for a Wii, and even then, there was no snow, it wasn't below freezing, there were plenty of people around to share supplies with and family and store employees to check up on me, I was out of the cold by 6 AM, and besides, at the end of it, there was a brand-new Nintendo Wii waiting for me. Those are not normal circumstances. Under normal circumstances, if you're homeless and can't find a shelter- which is entirely possible- you're out in it all night, and then all day, and then, potentially, the next night as well, and the next, and the next, until you find a place to stay or until you die of exposure.

How long do you think you'd last? It wouldn't be long. Think to all the times you hear- and you probably hear it about once or twice per winter- about someone, usually elderly, that died because the heating in their house failed. All that's needed to kill them is the cold. No wind, no snow, just the drop in temperature. Add in the wind and snow, and it's not hard to figure out what can happen to someone who has to spend their nights out in it, very possibly alone and at the mercy of whoever passes by. Maybe they're offered shelter. Maybe they're shooed away to go be cold somewhere else. Or maybe they're simply left to endure the continual dropping of their body temperature and, in turn, life expectancy.

Every night you have a roof over your head is a good one. In fact, as I note the wind continuing to make its presence known and felt outside in the early afternoon, so is every day. But there are some days and nights when you're happier to have it than others.

I'll close out by putting up a link for the National Coalition for the Homeless. Do with it what you will.

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