Much of the United States — and parts of the world — are in the midst of a severe cold snap. Here in Detroit, temperatures have dipped into the single digits, while the East Coast is grappling with major snowstorms. Even parts of India are experiencing unusual near-freezing weather. Normally, winters are short and mild in that region, but the cold temperatures have led to the deaths of at least sixteen homeless people, despite the government’s efforts to provide the poor with blankets and firewood.
In Vancouver, B.C. a controversial new law called the “Assistance to Shelter Act” just went into effect. It gives police the authority to “apprehend” people who are sleeping outside when an emergency weather alert is declared. While officials say the law is designed to prevent cold weather deaths among the homeless, critics contend it’s an effort to rid Vancouver of homeless individuals while it hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Regardless, it’s hard to argue about the impact of extreme weather conditions on the homeless. They are the most vulnerable victims of the bitter cold temperatures. If you live in a cold weather state, you know exactly what I mean. The next time you’re out in the cold, bundled up in layers of clothing and running errands or going to work, try to imagine how it would feel to have no where to go to warm up. No heated house. No warm, dry clothes to change into. No fireplace to sit by. And no hot coffee or tea to warm your insides. It’s a frightening thought, isn’t it?
That’s why winter is perhaps the busiest time at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM). We never say “no” to the homeless who come to our door for a respite from the cold and snow. We make room for them and provide a warm place to sleep, dry clothing to wear, and hot food to eat. For the homeless, it’s a matter of life and death. And as a faith-based organization, saving lives is how we serve God.