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Sage Against The Machine.
Libertarian Humanist.

What Sleeping Outside on Christmas Eve Did to Me

December 26, 2020

My wife loves when my actions take the moral high ground.

That's why she supported our homeless tent village. And that why she supported me spending Christmas Eve night sleeping outside in solidarity with homeless pregnant women. That's exactly what Mary was, after all.

Many of my current rants are vindictive and sometimes down right mean to the mayor, churches, and homeless service providers. But in my defense, I don't know what else to do. Homelessness in the richest country in the history of humanity shouldn't even be a thing, much less such the massive battle it currently is.

So when I told my wife that I was thinking about spending the night outside in support of homeless pregnant women, she was all for it.

The Akron Beacon Journal did a nice feature of the shelter I made out of pallets, fencing and tarps.

I woke up to it being 16 degrees on Christmas morning.

It wasn't much better when I went to bed. I don't think it ever reached above 23 degrees.

That and the relentless snow made the experience dramatic and powerful. I don't have snow clothes and hats and gloves. So eventually the snow would sit on my clothing, melt and then soak through everything.

I know enough that wet clothes in freezing weather are a death sentence. And cotton holds moisture better than any fabric I can think of.

My t-shirt, sweater, underwear and jeans were all made out of cotton. After I had built everything the sweat and the snow had me soaked. I started getting cold. Like really cold.

I went to bed at about 10:30 on Christmas Eve night.

I took off all my clothes and got in my sleeping bag. I had bought a zero degree Coleman sleeping bag this fall. It cost $50. We go camping in mid October with some friends every year. I wanted to try a new sleeping bag. I liked the bag in October and I liked it on Christmas Eve.

This sleeping bag worked!

I was not cold all night long.

But let me say this about the cold... It's relentless. It surrounds you like a shadow of death. It sits on your sleeping bag silently, patiently waiting for you. It has nothing more important to do than wait for you to emerge. If the smallest peace of skin came uncovered, the cold was instantly there to attack it. That's the way it feels. It will silently kill you if you don't prepare for it's wrath.

And the wind and the snow and the rain. That's why you build a waterproof shelter. Your sleeping bag is no match for those brutal forces.

The only reason I was not cold was because I had shelter and a decent sleeping bag.

I am absolutely committed to creating sanctioned emergency tent villages. I am not saying this is the be all end all solution. But what I am saying is that as I write this article I have multiple people texting me, begging me for propane and tents and sleeping bags.

We absolutely cannot wait another minute debating shelter for human beings. I don't care if you think they are lazy, drug addicts. By not giving these people sanctioned places to shelter we are torturing and murdering them as a society.

While I wasn't freezing, I was scared.

With shelter and proper sleeping gear, the weather quickly becomes a secondary player.

I probably got only 3 or 4 hours of sleep because I was scared of my surroundings.

I was afraid the police were going to come knocking on my shelter telling me to leave. But I was even more afraid of the other people on the street.

At about 3am a man started singing a song about how he needed a cigarette. It was an alright song. But I was quickly worried he was going to come to me looking for a cigarette and who knows what else.

Every SINGLE time the wind rustled my tarp I jolted awake afraid someone was at my camp.

You are completely vulnerable out in the open like that.

If "all" I had to be worried about was the cold I would have slept fine. But the true fear for me was the people.

Nothing happened. No one bothered me. Nothing was taken from my camp.

But then it got interesting.

After I packed up all my things I headed home. As I walked upstairs to my second floor apartment, my little dog Claribelle started barking for me. I was maybe more happy to hear her bark than I ever have been.

I was so truly happy to be home.

I didn't expect that. I've gone on countless business trips in my life. Sometimes I'd be gone all week. But I never came home feeling this way. I felt DEEPLY grateful to have a home and a family that loves me.

Even though I wasn't actually homeless, I was able to better empathize with the homeless experience. Being cold and alone and vulnerable and afraid is a terrible feeling.

On Christmas Day I took my dogs outside. The cold hit me in a completely different way than it ever had before. It felt more like an enemy. It felt evil. It triggered me from the night before. It brought back not just the cold, but also the fear. I truly believe I experienced a slight bit of trauma just in that one night.

It's now the day after Christmas. I went outside this morning to blow snow off my driveway. That ominous cold feeling had disappeared. My thinking is that the love and warmth of my home was able to heal that trauma I was feeling.

But I will say this: everything about being homeless is trauma inducing. The elements. The aloneness. The police. The predators. Every night. Relentless trauma. I feel like I can slightly sense that trauma.

In a way, I actually was thankful it was so cold. I believe it kept a lot of people off the streets. I would have been way more terrified camping so exposed in nicer weather. I'd be much more inclined to go hide in the woods in warmer seasons.

That's why we need sanctioned camps that are safe.

Today I can much more deeply understand what I've always believed. Being a human requires 3 levels of protection.

  1. You need a form of insulation and/or heat. A good sleeping bag will go a long way.
  2. You need some form of shelter to protect you from rain, snow and wind.
  3. And you need a community that will look out for you.

Those three items are ABSOLUTELY critical for the survival of a human being. Every animal has specific needs for survival that are unique to them. These 3 items are absolute must haves for human beings.

And we as a society systematically steal all 3 items from homeless people over and over again. I can't think of a more fundamental form of terrorism and torture than how we treat homeless people.

And why do we do it? Because they embarrass us. They make us look bad. Like we can't take care of the people that need the most care. So we sweep camps and lie to the public that we have places these people can go. And we just force them deeper underground and hidden. That's all society wants. Just sweep them under the rug. "Problem solved."

I would not describe my experience as fun or even an exhilarating adventure. I was mostly afraid for many reasons. But I'm very thankful I did it. I feel slightly more connected to my homeless friends. And if it's possible I am even angrier at the churches and the government that allow this brutal, torturous system to exist and propagate. While individual people are overwhelmingly kind and giving, we as a society are cruel and hateful.

Paid For By The People for Sage Lewis

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