I am a wuss.
I'm in Austin Texas for a symposium at the Community First Village.
A sold out group of people from as far away as Australia converged here to discuss the truly revolutionary concepts of this master planned village for the chronically homeless.
The only way to get a home here as a homeless person is by being homeless for at least a year or a culmination of a year over 3 years. Most people who live here have been homeless for over 10 years.
I have a great deal to say about this place and the ideas are still forming.
But what I want to talk about right now is where I slept last night. I slept here:
That's a legit tipi. It's huge inside. It can sleep 11 people. It has these beautiful long timber poles that all converge into a spiral formation at the top of the tipi. I was looking up at this:
The first night I slept there the weather was perfect. This was my roommate:
That's all well and good. But this is what the temperature was last night:
Have you ever camped in 43 degree weather?
I have and I NEVER enjoy it.
Here's how it goes...
You walk into your tent from outdoors and nothing changes. In fact, I swear sometimes it feels colder.
A tent is just meant to keep the rain and wind off you. And may I say, as you're stewing in your head about how freakin' cold it is, you, at the same time are thankful that wind isn't hitting you any more. Forty degree wind cuts through you like a demon. It penetrates into your feet, your hands, your face. It reaches into your bones causing them to scream in pain and ache.
And 40 degree rain... that shit will just straight up kill you.
We all wear cotton clothing. Jeans, socks, underwear, t-shirts, hats, scarves, gloves. The vast majority of clothing today is made out of cotton.
Cotton holds moisture like a sponge.
You don't even need to get cotton directly hit with rain for it to suck up moisture from the air.
If your cotton clothing is wet you are better off to take it all off and shiver in your dry blankets and sleeping bag.
You can easily slip into hypothermia and die due to the cold moisture that cotton will absorb and linger for hours and hours.
My roommate was no dummy. He had his human servants move his entire operation into the laundry room. This is where I found him last night:
He made this place look good. So I joined him this morning. I'm writing this in the laundry room in between a washer, dryer and mop bucket. It's the only place open this early that has heat.
I'm a camper.
I have camped on both oceans and the gulf coast. I have camped in national parks, national forests and countless state parks.
I have camped on private campgrounds and endless KOAs. I've camped in the mountains. I've camped in the plains.
I've camped in some of the most manicured campgrounds you could imagine. Shoot... I've camped at Disney World. And I've camped at some of the biggest dumps you can imagine.
Community First Village is, by far, the most charming, high end, lovely, top of the line campground setting I have ever experienced. And the customer service... it's as good as anything the Ritz Carlton has ever put out. (I was deeply trained in Ritz Carlton service as a restaurant server there.)
And it's all for the love and compassion of our most long-term suffering homeless neighbors they could find.
My mind is a little blown because these people are constantly thinking about how they can connect their multi-millionaire and billionaire friends into new and wonderful ways to care for and love and delight the people that everyone else despises.
I'm fighting to be able to shelter people in anything at all and these people are building tiny houses designed by world-class architects.
The disconnect is jarring.
ALL tiny houses here have heat and air conditioning. Some people live in new RVs with kitchens and bathrooms.
They are long past making homeless people sleep in tents with no climate control.
But they have a small area for guest to come and stay on the property. 3 of those shelters are tipis.
I really like sleeping in the open air in a tent. Most of us have no idea what outside air really feels like to your body. It's intoxicating to sleep in. Indoor air is always more polluted than open air in a campground.
I chose sleeping in the tipi for a couple reasons:
I'm glad it was 43 degrees and rainy last night.
I don't care how experienced a camper you are. Camping in 43 degrees and rain sucks. There is just no ifs ands or buts about it. It sucks.
This is the temperature in Akron Ohio right now:
I don't think I've ever camped in 27 degrees.
I don't have the gear for it. I don't have the will for it. I just don't want to do it.
If it was 27 degrees here I would have taken an Uber to a local hotel.
I don't think I would have been able to sleep in 27 degrees.
And that's nothing. It's still early November. We'll be getting into single digit temperatures soon.
Last night there were people who had no shelter, no coats, no hats, no place to rest. They wondered the streets of Akron Ohio in at 27 degrees freezing cold just waiting for morning to come.
This is America. This is reality. Tragedy is too small a word to describe what we are inflicting on these people. And we do it because we judge them. We accuse them of being lazy, of being addicts, of "choosing" to live like this.
NO ONE CHOOSES to live a life of abandonment and torture and suffering. No one.
We have built this prison of shunning and suffering for these people.
We have chosen this for them. They have chosen nothing.
They have nowhere else to go.
Do we feel smug about this? Do we just shrug our shoulders and say the problem is "complicated?"
Imagine this, let's say at noon today a tornado rips through your neighborhood. It decimates 50 houses. Fortunately, everyone was either at school or at work. So no one died. But your home, your house is gone.
What do you think will immediately happen?
I'll tell you what will happen:
You will get more love and compassion and kindness than you will know what to do with. Yes, you experienced a great tragedy. But you are loved. You are cared for.
The Red Cross doesn't come. Their neighbors don't come. The churches don't come. The government doesn't come. No one comes to help them.
We have veterans living on the streets for decades and we do nothing for them. They are freezing right now. They are not loved. They are not cared for. No one is checking on them this morning to see if they are ok. They will likely die alone and no one will come to celebrate their life.
What did the homeless veteran do to deserve such cruelty and what did you do to deserve such compassion and care? Are you a saint? Are you a magnificent person? Are you "deserving" of the kind of love that will envelope you in your time of tragedy while the homeless veteran freezes night after night on the street?
We are a judgmental and stereotyping people. We are very quick to make snap judgments about anyone and everyone. This bothers me because so many of these same judgmental people also call themselves Christians. There is not a single word anywhere in the Bible that says something like: "Fuck the homeless."
But that is our method. That's our long standing characteristic. That's our modus operandi. That's just the way we do it.
I was a better Christian as an atheist than the vast majority of Christians I've ever met. I'm sorry to say it. But it's true.
I am a good person because I choose to be a good person. It is the right thing to do. Jesus just offered a road map on how to do it. You don't need to believe in Jesus to be a good person. It just helps if you get a little lost from time to time. Just like how Community First Village offers a road map on how we should actually be thinking about and caring for our homeless neighbors.
You can see quite clearly all the people who make the words of Jesus fit into their beliefs instead of having their beliefs molded into the words of Jesus.
I don't know if anger will get people to wake up. I don't know if love will get people to wake up. I don't know if ANYTHING will get people to wake up.
But we, the entire world, are in a zombie trance of believing the homeless are bad people and don't deserve our love. I don't care what religion or lack of religion you come from but that it abhorrently, terribly, brutally wrong.
I will not rest until one day the leaders of the world wake up from the self-imposed nightmare they have created for our weakest, poorest citizens.
This is wrong. This is wrong. This is wrong.
That featured image is one of the many Homeless Jesus sculptures placed around the world.
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
- Matthew 25:40