It was a chilly Sunday in December, just a few days before Christmas. I spent the day in Denver attending an event in which my good friend was performing. It was a fundraiser, and it was dragging on. I considered leaving at the halfway point, but ultimately decided to stay until the end.
(It may seem like there are an annoying amount of trivial details here at the beginning, but hang in there – they are actually relevant at the end!)
After the show, I drove to Longmont where I was starting a house sitting job, and decided to stop by Safeway to pick up a few groceries.
As I was walking in the door, I saw two of our homeless clients. They were standing under the hot air in the doorway, trying to get warm. I chatted with them for a little bit, offered to drive them to the shelter or buy them something from the store but they declined.
I knew they slept out a lot of the time due to his severe anxiety issues, so I wasn’t surprised. Still, it was cold that night and I worried about them. They turned to leave and the guy took my hand, looked in my eyes with his dark brown ones shining, and said, “thank you.”
As I grabbed a few things in the grocery store, I realized how cold the man’s hands were when he held mine and I thought that I could easily pop over to my office, just a couple blocks from there, and get them some gloves and hand warmers to keep the frostbite away. I decided to do it and looked around to see in which direction they were walking as I left the store.
First I had to stop by the house to check on the cat I was watching, as I was already quite late to feed him dinner. He was fine and as I put the groceries away, I debated whether to bother going back out in the cold to track down the couple and get them some gloves. It was late, I had already taken off my wet shoes and coat, and it was nice and warm inside the house.
Logic and past experience told me that it would probably be hard to find the couple again; I thought about just sitting down with a glass of wine to watch TV.
Something was telling me to try anyway and so I got back in my car and drove to my office in search of gloves.
When I pulled up next to the door, it was close to 11pm. My headlights shined onto some donations sitting out front (pretty typical sight). But then a tarp that was covering them started moving as if blowing in the wind (there was no wind that night).
Suddenly, the tarp popped up and I could see a person frantically waving at me from underneath.
A little startled, I got out of my car and started talking to the person from a distance.
“Hi, this is Christina, I work here. What are you doing?”
I found out his name was Tom, he was a client of ours who I had only met a couple of times. He told me that he usually sleeps out, even in the winter.
But his sleeping bag had been stolen earlier that evening and he wasn’t equipped for the weather. He wanted to get in touch with our outreach team but didn’t have a phone and didn’t know where the shelter was, so he plopped himself on the pavement in front of the office under that tarp and hoped someone would show up.
I don’t know how long he was under that tarp before I got there. What I do know is that when I pulled out my phone to check the temperature, it was 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
We loaded his bags in my back seat and I drove him to the shelter while he warmed his stiff hands in front of the heating vents.
“Well, I’m sure glad you came along,” he said.
It kept me up that night – thinking about how many things had to happen for me to be there to find him. Even our latest-working volunteers and staff had left for the night at that point and no one casually driving by would have likely noticed the man under the tarp, camouflaged next to the bags of donations.
He might have been OK there overnight. He said he had slept out in worse conditions.
“Yes ma’am, I’m 58 years old and this is not my first rodeo.”
He said that your breath eventually warms up the inside of a tarp if you keep the edges sealed.
But then again, 0 degrees is pretty darn cold to sleep outside without a sleeping bag, no matter what.
I never did end up finding the couple to give them the gloves, but it turned out they weren’t the ones who needed help that night.