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March 05, 2015

A Proposal For Cold City Nights: "One Night, One Person".

Every year winter cold claims lives of homeless people all over the world. In the United States, the number is thought to be roughly 1000 a year--but no one is really certain.

Tonight, Thursday, March 5, and tomorrow night, Friday, March 6, most Northeastern American cities and several Midwestern ones will see nighttime temperatures drop to between zero and 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The "One Night, One Person"* idea reflected in this post's title is that if you work during the day in downtown areas of one of certain American cities--i.e., you're a young or old yuppie, exec or professional between the ages of 22 and 72, and whether your politics are hopelessly right wing, left wing, nihilist, Ted Nugent, Rand Paul's dad--with significant homeless populations, go forth and do this:

1. Locate and ask a homeless woman or man what articles of warm clothing she or he needs that you already have at home or in storage--thermal gloves, wool scarfs, warm hats and beanies, big sweaters, winter coats, thermal underwear, socks, etc.;

2. Agree on a time to meet (preferably at the same place) later that day or the next day;

3. Quickly find the stuff you have at home or in storage; and

4. Bring said stuff to them as agreed. Don't worry, nine out of ten times, your new friend will be there when you show up.

And that's it. You can do One Night, One Person whenever a cold night is coming.

I've done this ten times in the last three weeks--at night and during daytime in downtown Washington, D.C., where I live and work--to see if it works--and it does. It's not time-consuming. It's not scary. It's not even that noble. From a humanitarian standpoint, this idea doesn't even make the team. It's not lofty enough to get a movie made about any of us. Maybe think of it simply as refusing to randomly run over someone you don't know with your car. Or better yet, the rent we each pay for taking up space on planet earth. None of us should get kudos or gold stars for basic human being-ness. If we know bitter cold one night can make someone suffer or die, and it's easy for us ensure that neither will probably happen, we do that.

Here are just some of the cold cities this week where you can do this, all with big homeless (and pretty big yuppie) populations: Baltimore (homeless population 4,500), Washington, D.C.(7,700), New York City (60,000 in shelter system, 5,500 on streets), Chicago (62,000 metro area), Boston (7,200) and Indianapolis (5,000 to 8,000, all Marion County) to name some. Sure, the way stats are developed and kept by different governments on homeless populations is not uniform and is often unreliable. True, some will find shelters or get put up in hotels this week. But not everyone will. And you can get a good idea of who they are on your way to work in the early morning and on your way home.

Once again, find them, ask them what they really need (or they can trade; someone will get it) and then bring your stuff back at an appointed time that day or the next day. My stuff? I had 31 scarfs, about 10 pairs of gloves, over 25 sweaters. Stuff I've had in some cases since the Beatles split up and never wore, including cashmere (very warm, by the way) because no one apparently noticed that since I was 10 or so that I only wore black or dark outfits even back then. I rarely wear colors or lighter clothing. (I'm glad I don't have to tell you about the ties). I did keep my letter sweaters and my Dad's--the guy had four of them through high school and college playing both hoops and football at Indiana schools--but anything else was fair game.

Oh. A new and amazing thing I tried, and you should, too: give away some stuff you really like.

Yes, the Catch: you have to talk to them. The homeless. The street sleepers. Or in the UK "those who are sleeping rough". But it's the best part. If you're not talky, pretend you're that man or woman you know or know of--your gabby senior class president in high school, your Uncle Seamus, my own Mom, Bill Clinton, or me--who can talk to anyone. You'll be surprised, as I was, with some of the conversations you'll have. If you are nervous or doing this at night, take someone with you. If you're in DC--and I'm not helping corporate America pay less in environmental fines or firing another guy named either Josh or Skyler--I will go with you.

There are so many different reasons people end up sleeping on the streets. But on a cold night, it shouldn't matter why. Few if any of the folks you will talk to are overtly nuts, stoned or drunk. However, if you are threatened or just feel threatened, walk away. Safety first, and all that. Please consider doing this NOW, for tonight and tomorrow night. If it's a go, you'll have to jump on this.

The cold has already cut short several American lives this winter. No need for more.

*Thanks, Peter Friedman, for the input on this and the "One Night, One Person" name.

Autumn-and-WInter-Men-Wool-Blends-Men-s-Tops-font-b-Jacket-b-font-font-b (1).jpg

That's the idea, David Beckham and skinny metrosexual Mayfair model guy. And give it up. The clothes, that is. London homelessness, by the way, is up 79% in last five years.

Posted by JD Hull at March 5, 2015 04:22 PM


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