Like it or not, the season has changed. That doesn't just mean that Christmas merchandise is already hitting retail shelves (bah, humbug). It also means the weather has taken a dramatic turn. Rain. Wind. Thunder. Flooding. Power outages.
True, we've got it very good compared to Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas, but it's definitely chilly. Dark in the early evening. The sound of the furnace kicking on in the wee hours. Pulling the crock pot out. Keeping a mug of something warm nearby all day. Halloween costumes under construction. I love this time of year! Who doesn't?
The people without shelter, of course. The people who have lost their apartments due to sudden rent hikes, who don't know how to be homeless, who never considered it would happen to them. The working poor. The families that have to choose between gas for their homes or gas for their cars. The elderly and disabled who didn't think to keep a tent or waterproof clothing because they felt safe.
Unfortunately, nobody is safe. NPR recently reported that 40% of Americans cannot accommodate a $400 emergency. That means a blown transmission can cost someone their home. That having to stay home with a sick child for a week can result in a lost job, which balloons into homelessness in a matter of days. Nearly half of all children in Oregon are experiencing food insecurity. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to bed hungry every night (although many are). It means that families cannot juggle living expenses, and getting help with food helps keep many from crossing the tipping point. Food stamps, emergency food pantries, and free meal programs are critical to a tremendous number of our neighbors.
Of course, friends are embarrassed to admit that they can't make ends meet. That somehow their obsolete career or reduced work hours make them failures. We don't know who is huddled under three sweaters because they can't pay the heating bill, or who is trying to keep a positive attitude about the empty pantry being an opportunity to clean the shelves. I didn't realize how worn out and thin my clothes were, but my mom noticed, and she bought me a few new basics. I never would have thought that a long-sleeved shirt and slacks without any holes would be a luxury, but they are. My $800-a-month disability check would have me living in a box if it weren't for family.
As we start the seasonal baking and nudge the thermostat up, I hope we stay aware of the half of our city that can't do either of those things. I hope we tuck away a few dollars to donate, or start a box of a-can-a-day foods that we can take to our neighborhood emergency pantry. Many of my friends are making as many sandwiches as they can afford, and then handing them out to the tent camps and new tiny home communities, where people are huddled with minimal resources and just their courage to keep them from despair.
Every day, especially in the cold season, it does us well to take a moment for a thought of the other guy. To write down that little idea that might help one neighbor stay warm or eat well. To take a small action, any action, that can snowball into hope for innumerable strangers.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.