By Colleen Sinsky
You probably couldn’t avoid noticing Portland’s below freezing temperatures this weekend. As a recent transplant from San Diego I definitely spent the weekend more or less amazed at how Northwesterners manage to run errands, walk around downtown, and more or less carry on normal lives despite the frigid conditions. Outreach, and what we call “snow patrol” played a big part of many JOIN worker’s weekends. Because the temperature was expected to drop below 22 degrees, the county issued a Severe Weather Alert, and a few emergency warming centers were temporarily opened by The Red Cross. We went out to check on the folks we know outside and be sure that they were aware of the additional spaces available indoors for the night. I spent Saturday night driving around downtown with a roommate and we passed out a trunk-load of donated blankets, hats and socks. Sometimes what affects me the most at the end of the night when I’m ruminating on my ride home is just the tone that folks have when I ask “have enough blankets for tonight?” Not all of the time, but often enough to really challenge me, the response I hear is a desperate “YES. please. I’m freezing!” On the other hand though, sometimes someone will say “Oh, I’m fine thanks. But that other guy over there only has a tarp! You should go throw some blankets on him.”
I know that a blanket doesn’t solve any problems, and that whatever positive change I can affect that night won’t be enough. But every conversation that a JOIN worker has with someone sleeping outside is a step towards what will hopefully become a long-term relationship and eventual transition to a stable place.