I’ve spent so much time around really kind people in the past year or two that I’ve lost my edge. I’ve become a naive little flower in the poisonous garden of neighborhood politics.
So I was taken aback as the first, then the second, then the third speaker spoke against opening a warming room for homeless people in a local senior center. The warming room would operate when the senior center was closed – folks would come in at 7 pm and leave at 7 am, well before seniors showed up for tai chi or woodworking or for their morning social.
But because an alderman got busy stoking the flames of fear and loathing, the speakers were dripping with hostility, it ran off them like spring sap from a maple tree, just unabashed as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“What about lice and bedbugs and diseases? They’ll make us all sick.”
“They’ll leave their needles laying around.”
So there are things that take your breath away and hatred is one of them. Now there’s a lot of hatred in the world, even in a nice town like Milwaukee, but usually people take some pains to cover it up. You know, like they might have a stain on their favorite shirt so they put a sweater on to hide it; they don’t want anyone to know they have a stained shirt. Yesterday, at this public meeting about the warming room, people were wearing their stained shirts with pride. It was truly breathtaking.
I am bothered by this for a lot of reasons. The first one is that it’s 17 degrees outside and supposed to get colder. The second is that there are a lot of homeless people sleeping outside very near this senior center. The third reason is that we had to have a public meeting about offering homeless people a place to not freeze to death. Experts told the crowd that bedbugs and lice and diseases weren’t issues – no more than with anyone you might meet. But the chorus had started on these notes and only got louder as the meeting progressed. No one knew how to change the tune.
So it is depressing.
I let the dogs out the back door and the cold air hits me in the face. I close the door because it’s too cold and I stand inside watching while they run around, disappear in the bushes and then leap back on to the porch. A few days ago, I would have gone out on the porch or in the yard to watch them but it’s too cold now. Too cold for me in my jeans and sweatshirt. My big socks. When they come in, I turn up the heat. Why? I don’t know. Because I can, I guess.
The warming room will open, sooner or later. I believe that. But there is still tonight and the 17 degrees and the hatred and the heat I can turn up if I want to. It’s a cruel soup.