The Christmas trees are out at the curbs some sporting a forgotten ornament; credit card bills too thick to think about are arriving; gifts we ooo’d and ah’d over are pretty much forgotten; and the lights and decorations have been put away. In Wisconsin winter winds howl through the trees as I write, long icicles decorate houses, and heavy sweaters are donned as we leave to gather with friends around blazing fires.
Though the shortest day of the year is behind us, darkness still seems eternal. Even though we had 40 inches of snow and sub-zero temperatures by mid-December, it seems like winter does not really begin here until January. People start talking about getaways ... somewhere warm and sunny they say. Many leave for a while and many stay because budgets or work schedules prevent travel. Those who stay huddle together, drink cocoa, cross country ski or snowshoe through the woods and anticipate spring’s arrival.
Through all of this my mind wanders to the streets of Madison, Wisc., Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities to those who on bitter cold nights find themselves sleeping in cartons, cars or on sidewalks. How do they tolerate the lives they lead? Oh, perhaps they get warm in a library or church for a while each day. Maybe they get a hot meal at a soup kitchen.
But imagine what it is like when the temperatures drop to 20 or 30 below zero as they did last week. Running from my car to the house chills me to the bones on those days while many endure the cold day and night.
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How many of us give a thought to those who are homeless? How many judge and blame them? How much attention do our government and citizens give to finding a permanent solution that would provide warmth and food for every citizen? The problem seems eternal.
When my brothers and sisters are freezing, how do I ignore that reality? When families with young children or aging parents find themselves homeless and cold and hungry-how can I truly enjoy the warmth of our home until they have the same?
Oh, I drop a few dollars in an outstretched cup or donate food and money to the pantry in town but it is not enough. Too many foster children released at age 18 become homeless.
Veterans, 200,000 on any given night, live on the streets. More than a half million released prisoners are homeless. Almost 9% of the homeless are from rural communities. About 1.6 million children experience homelessness in our country.
Organizations like www.endhomelessness.org/ offer plans and solutions but need volunteers and money. We all watch the gap between the wealthy (who are getting wealthier) and the poor (who are getting poorer) grow each year. Recent foreclosures and high rents are only the latest problems that force many to the streets.
And here I sit on a very cold and windy December night in a warm house watching the pines in my front yard sway as if in a dance. My car sits waiting in our garage to transport me to the store for food or to a friend’s home for a hot meal.
How quickly and easily I forget those who are cold and hungry.
How quickly we all forget.
Mary Friedel-Hunt, a freelance writer, publisher (Voice of the River Valley) and licensed clinical social worker, has been a psychotherapist for 32 years. Her column runs weekly in Faith & Values. You may contact her by writing to: P.O. Box 189, Lone Rock, WI. 53556.