I love Fall. Autumn. The end of the hot seasons and the beginning of the cold. Dole out the blankets and light the apple pie candles, baby! I'm here for red leaves and frosty mornings!
For those of us with a stable home and access to air conditioning and heaters, the changing seasonal weather is something to look forward to. It's mostly thought of as pumpkin spice time, especially if you're as basic as I am.
If you're wondering how basic that is, let me put it this way. I used to work at Starbucks, and I have a big plastic container full of pumpkin spice latte topping in my pantry. I'll let you do the math.
But for people who don't have decent housing, Fall can be a nerve-wracking time.
The cost of heating can be pretty high when the weather gets cold, especially if your home is not properly insulated. For people living in the north, keeping the cold out and the heat in can be a bank-breaking problem.
Having grown up in a chilly rural corner of my home province, I know a thing or two about it.
Covering windows with thick plastic sheets isn't uncommon where I'm from; I remember watching the grown-ups staple them in place and run the hairdryer over them to shrink it into a tight fit. We'd tuck rolled towels and spare sheets under the bottom of the doors to keep the cold air from leaking in through the gaps.
It takes preparation to get through a cold Canadian winter. Clearing the driveway every fresh snowfall, keeping the car from breaking down after a bad freeze, it all takes work. But you can get by.
If you have neither a house nor a car, though...
Winter gets brutal for the homeless here in the Northern Hemisphere. The Summer heat is nasty, any extremes of temperature are dangerous as hell. But the cold season is an absolute nightmare.
At least in the Summer there are public fountains or waterways to cool off with. In the Fall and Winter, you're left looking for somewhere to get out of the frigid wind for even a moment.
Where I live, the cold seasons are full of drizzles, freezing rain and hail. Blizzards are common, cold snaps and flash freezes hit without warning. And that's before Yuletide, when the Winter is still relatively mild.
To be caught outside in that is a death sentence.
During the Winter, shelters and soup kitchens in town run at capacity. The local homeless and destitute people in our city can wind up sharing tents in parking lots nearby, waiting their turn for a chance to go inside and warm up for an hour or two.
Other cities have the same problem. There just isn't enough space for all of the people suffering in poverty these days, especially after the Pandemic when shelters became a hotbed of sickness.
Many people are still terrified of sitting in a room full of people without masks, and for good reason. Healthcare for the homeless, especially down in the States, can be pretty hard to secure.
So while we're understandably excited for the season of pumpkin spice, it doesn't hurt to take a step back and assess the situation of those less fortunate than us. I think it'd be really cool if we made this the season to offer help when we're able to those who are struggling in our local neighborhoods.
If you can spare the cash to buy a hot drink or a meal for someone, even just a cheap bowl of soup or chili from the local coffee shop, that can go a long way.
Gifts of spare gloves that you don't need, or a package of thick socks or underwear can be amazing for people left stranded on the street. Keeping clothes dry and warm during the wet Winter can be really difficult.
When all else fails, the best gift you may be able to give is cash and a minute of your time. I know there are stereotypes about drugs and alcohol and all that jazz, but honestly, so what?
It's not our place to judge somebody about what they do to cope with a life like that. You're not their doctor, it's not your place to give them health advice or a lecture. Let them decide what to do.
Most likely, you helped a hungry person buy a meal. Maybe they'll drop a couple dollars to sit on the city bus for a while and get out of the freezing cold.
If all you can afford to give someone is a couple bucks in change and a few minutes of conversation, to treat someone like a human being worthy of respect, then you'll be doing more for them than most people bother to do.
In the old days, Fall was the season of the harvest. It was the time when communities would come together and work to ensure their collective survival and wellbeing before the harshest time of the year.
I think we would be well served as a society if we all tried to bring that attitude back into style this season.