Recently Steinbach Online shared Marc Penner's story about what it was like to sleep out in the Manitoba cold last week. Fortunately he was able to get into Today House and has plans to move into an apartment in the near future. However it's far too often that we hear stories of people hunkering down outdoors for the night in whatever sheltered place they can find.
Here's a list of 12 things you can do to help out someone who is sleeping rough in the frigid cold.
- A Hot Bowl of Soup: I'll never forget one chilly day in late October one of our chronic homeless friends came in and said he'd had the best day ever yesterday! He'd been hanging out in a small park all afternoon and was just leaving when a lady came running out of her house and chased him down. At first he was nervous she'd yell at him for being a nuisance, but it turns out she'd been watching him from her kitchen window all day whilst cooking soup for supper and wanted him to have a bowl. She shoved a monster sized steaming hot bowl of borscht into his hands and chatted with him at the park while he ate. It was the best thing that had happened to him that month. Putting soup in a to go mug works too if you're not wanting to hang around so you can have your bowl back.
- Hand & Feet Warmers: Giving someone those little heat packs that you can stick in your mitts and socks is always appreciated. They are ideal for keeping your body warm when the weather is not.
- Socks: We have one guy that takes as many socks as we will let him every time he comes in. Once I asked him what he did with all those socks all the time. Turns out you can double them up on your hands for mittens, tie them together around your head to make an ear warmer, use them as oven mitts when you're heating food over a fire, and a few other things that I won't mention publicly. Then there's the fact that when you live out of a backpack you don't have a place to do laundry so once they're crunchy you toss them and take out new ones.
- Small heater: We've been getting a lot of requests recently for small space heaters. For those people who are camping out in a shed or garage a small space heater makes sleeping rough slightly more bearable. It might be weird if you ran up to some random person on the street and offered them a heater, but if you want to drop one off at Outreach we can gladly pass it on to people we know who need them.
- Tarp: A tarp can be put under a sleeping bag to keep the moisture from the ground seeping up or tossed over a park bench or tree branches as a makeshift tent to keep out the wind.
- Buy them a Sandwich instead of Giving Cash: We recommend that you do not give out cash. If you are approached by someone on the street offer to buy them a sandwich at the nearest cafe instead.
- Blankets: Blankets or sleeping bags are always appreciated. Our guests recommend ones that are small enough to be stuffed into a backpack, but are warm enough to sleep in the snow. However when they are indoors either couch surfing they revel in the luxury of a puffy queen sized blanket.
- Giftcards: A while ago I overheard a few of our guests sharing stories about getting kicked out of 24 hour restaurants and gas stations because they don't have the money to buy something when they go in there at night to get out of the cold. If you choose to buy a giftcard we recommend a $10 card to Tim Hortons, McDonalds or gas stations so they can purchase something hot and justify their place at the table. Gas station cards are especially welcomed by those people who are living in their cars.
- Mini First Aid Kits: Having a few bandages and swabs on hand when you are living rough is always useful. Fingers have nearly been lost when one is trying to open a tin can with a jackknife.
- Hand Sanitizer: Even before Covid having a small bottle of hand sanitizer is useful for those times when you can't access a sink and soap.
- Waterproof Mittens: Knitted mittens are nice but when you are shoveling driveways for extra cash and walking everywhere you go you really need warm mitts that keep out the wind and wet snow.
- Hoodies: Hoodies provide an extra layer of warmth and can be pulled up over the head in the absence of a toque.
Small gestures can make a person's day. We are currently working with a dozen or so homeless people who are couch surfing or sleeping rough. The extreme cold and covid make it difficult but we do what we can and hope for the best.