This year our winter solstice actually feels like winter here in Los Angeles. Today it was only about 60°F and at night it’s dropping to about 40°F. I’m actually getting a lot of use out of my many pairs of boots this winter, so I’m very glad I didn’t give all those away! What I gave away today did relate to the cold temperatures though.
Last year my husband David and I bought a new queen-sized comforter (duvet) for our bed. It looked great but was so heavy that I couldn’t sleep well under it. I pulled out an old one, which has been working fine, so the new heavy one has been stuffed rather inelegantly into a closet and tumbles out whenever I open the door. I considered taking it to the thrift store, but I decided to try something more worthwhile. I stuffed the comforter into the back of my car and drove to a part of our neighborhood I’ve driven past many times but where I have never stopped – the underpass under Sunset Blvd in Silver Lake where a homeless encampment has grown up noticeably in the last year or so.
Probably because of its usually balmy weather, the City of Los Angeles has a huge homeless population – about 26,000 people total. In fact, it has recently been estimated that one third of the nation’s chronically homeless population resides in LA – roughly 13,000 people living long-term on the streets, under bridges and overpasses. Although I and many others have been praying a lot for rain lately, and we are looking forward to a big El Nino weather effect this winter, all of the cold weather we have been enjoying lately (and the rain we’re hoping to have soon) will make life for the homeless not just miserable, but perilous as temperatures drop and encampments are at risk of being washed away. There are a number of great organizations like the Los Angeles Mission (www.lamission.org) working help these people, and we give to a couple of them each year, but today, on the shortest and one of the coldest days of the year, I wanted to do something more direct.
I parked my car close to the encampment, pulled the comforter out of the back seat, and carried it towards the encampment. A man in a plaid jacket, probably around 50 years old, was standing alone beside some bundles of belongings eating out of a box of Chinese take-out. Under the arches several other men were huddled together talking next to some of the cardboard box homes. It was dark already, and inside I was kicking myself for not coming out in the daylight, but I was here now with a large comforter in my arms. I went up to the first man and asked him if he lived here. He stopped eating his noodles and replied that he did, so I asked him if he would like the comforter to help him stay warm. He said he would, took the comforter and thanked me. I awkwardly wished him Happy Holidays and said I hoped the comforter would help. The men further into the encampment were looking our way and shouting out something I couldn’t understand, so I decided it was time to get moving. As I climbed back into my car and as my heater blew warm air onto my legs, I shook my head thinking how little difference one comforter makes when there are 26,000 people out there in the cold.