Hell May Be Hot, But Cold is Hell!

All year round, Manchester has a huge homeless challenge. From now until springtime, that challenge is a humanitarian crisis. Without a place to escape the cold, human beings will lose fingers, noses, ears and toes. Some people may die.

Think of it!  In a wealthy city more than 20 years into a new millennium, people on the street from now until March have nowhere to go to stay warm enough to avoid frostbite. If you’re homeless at 2 am in 10-degree weather you’re not welcome at convenience stores, not welcome at hospitals, not welcome anywhere. You are wanted nowhere and by nobody.

I can’t explain the structural, spiritual, economic or moral challenges that lead people to life on the streets, in the encampments or hunkered down in a shelter. That’s far beyond me. My goal is simpler, based on my experience as a formerly homeless man, a recovering addict and alcoholic who’s rediscovered joy and life through recovery. I have been the nameless invisible human with no friendly direction. I was lucky to be homeless during warmer weather. It still sucks, but I didn’t worry about dying. (Truth be told, I prayed for death and woke each morning with the taste of disappointment in my mouth.) People become homeless for a bunch of different reasons: bad choices, bad luck, bad karma. Regardless of how people found homelessness or what they should be doing about it, I want them to find joy and embrace life, two things hard to do when you’ve got a toe tag in the morgue. In fact, the only cures for joy and life are pain and death. 

I want no homeless person in Manchester left in the cold on winter nights. Religious traditions may tell us hell is hot, but New Hampshire winters produce a cold that is hell for anyone who’s living outside. Likewise, traditions teach us hell follows a poorly-lived life, but a January’s subzero temperatures or March’s marrow-chilling freezing rain bring hell in the midst of life or, in the worst case, at the onset of death.

Manchester’s emergency shelter, run by Families in Transition (FIT), has 138 beds, and regularly turns people away because those beds are full. Returning to the street or a tent in May or August is a pain in the neck; in the winter, the pain is in the fingers, toes, ears and nose. Frostbite is serious business and hypothermia puts people out of business for good. 

December is closing in and Manchester has not yet adopted a plan for keeping homeless people alive. If Coronavirus breaks out at the shelter, those 138 beds may be drastically reduced. In the coldest period of the year, Manchester may have fewer shelter spaces than it did in July.

Who will step up to run a warming station, open from December 1 until March 31 from 11 pm to 7 pm? FIT has its hands full with its shelter and, much as they might like to, they can’t do more. Hope for New Hampshire Recovery and the 1269 Café (aka The Twelve) are two small nonprofits, one serving people struggling to recover from addictions and the other a Christian organization helping people who are homeless.  Still, both places value dignity, oppose suffering and want to prevent needless death.  neither of these small organizations have the budget to operate a warming station this winter, but it is obvious that Manchester needs a warming station staffed by human beings demonstrating love and respect. 

Hope for the Winter at the Twelve, a collaboration between Hope and 1269 offers a safe and drug/alcohol-free warm place to get out of the cold, friendly and knowledgeable staff members in recovery, hot coffee and, perhaps most important, respect. We want people to be alive and healthy. Winter weather makes each of these a challenge. We are collaborating to help as many homeless people as possible survive with all their extremities intact.

Hope for the Winter at the Twelve will cost money. Its budget is $65,000, about $17 per night for each guest. We continue to be optimistic that the City will find a way to support the warming station this winter, but there is no time left to wait for City leaders to take charge.  We are not willing to stand by without taking action.  To make this work, we need financial support and staff to satisfy health and fire regulations.

Neither Hope nor 1269 has the money to fund this warming station—Hope helps folks find recovery from drugs and alcohol and 1269 meets the needs of the homeless. We don’t have the money, we don’t have the staff and we don’t have the bandwidth. Still . . . we simply can’t do nothing about this desperate human need. We have faith in our fellow citizens, that you will step up and support this warming station, preventing pain, injury and even death. You will not turn a blind eye and a closed wallet.

Hope for the Winter at The Twelve is only a temporary fix for an ongoing problem, just as clean, dry socks, gloves and hats are just band aids against the cold. Even housing is never permanent—stop paying your rent or mortgage and you’ll find that out. Still, all of us want warm clothing and housing, potentially fleeting as they may be. 

Mary and Craig Chevalier, 1269’s leaders, are Christians whose faith compels and empowers them to address human need. They are, in my experience, two of the finest followers of Jesus imaginable. I’m not a born-again Christian, nor a Christian of any kind, really, just your basic humanist who’s lived the life of the invisible homeless and doesn’t want people to die or suffer. Together, our two agencies are collaborating to do what little we can and do it as best we can. To do anything less would be cowardly. 

We believe, we trust, we rely on you of goodwill to support this effort. Support here means money, $65,000. We are beating the bushes to find funding for this project.  It is not yet clear what, if anything, the City will provide.  But we are committed to finding a way.  With your help, we’ll make this work.  

If you’ve read this far, I trust you’ll make a donation. Before you decide how much to give, I’d like to propose a preparatory experiment. It’d be easy to ask you to pray or meditate, but I want you to step outside your home with just a light jacket to do that praying or meditating. Stand on that porch, that sidewalk, that lawn for a few minutes, and feel the heat drain from your fingers, the chill on your ears and the tip of your nose. Feel the wind sapping your strength. Now, go inside, warm up and get out your checkbook or log onto the internet. Before you enter a figure to donate, give thanks your experiment is over and picture reality for other human beings not as blessed or lucky as you.

Donations for Hope for the Winter at The Twelve can be made at the following link:

Donations can also be sent to:

Hope for New Hampshire Recovery

Hope for the Winter 1269 Warming Station

293 Wilson Street

Manchester, NH 03103

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