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Perspective: Lessons from an overnight warming center

Priscilla du Preez

“There is this guy on campus sleeping on an outdoor heat vent,” a friend told me just before the polar vortex hit in early January.

Our town did not have an overnight warming center and we knew some individuals were sleeping in doorways and curled up in tents in the woods. I asked my church if we could use our building for this purpose. Since January 11th we have provided hot meals and warmth to 18 different individuals.

I have learned that those who are unhoused live invisibly in our communities. They often walk with their heads down watching for stray change. They are like deer, very skittish and if approached too quickly they will disappear.

I have learned systems don’t just suddenly crumble. First, they develop large cracks that can swallow entire lives.

When I asked one of our guests what she would like people to know about being homeless, she asked me to share this:

"Tell them we are just normal people. We just want kindness. We don’t want to be stared at, or teased, or laughed at. I would say the main thing is we don’t want anything from you but kindness.”

That is not a lot to ask and should be easy to give. Don’t you agree?

I’m Dan Kenney, and this is my perspective.

Dan Kenney is a retired elementary school teacher and the founder of DeKalb County Community Gardens. He's also a published poet and writer.