I was sitting inside a bus stop shelter near The Crossing at Fox Run, on one of the coldest Saturdays I remember in 2019. I was dressed warm and still, I was freezing. I suddenly had realized that I had read the bus schedule wrong and I was going to be waiting more than an hour and a half for the next bus, there was reduced service because it was a Saturday.
I was across from the cinemas and was watching as people walked fast or even ran toward their cars at a jogging pace, it was COLD. As I watched them I was trying to pull my sleeves down past my wrists from under my coat, wrap my scarf tighter around my neck, and pull the collar up around my face as I pulled my hat down further around my ears. I was still freezing. I was surprised because I had my warm wool coat and warm gloves as well.
I knew I had to do something very soon because I would probably get hypothermia if I stayed out in that bus stop shelter that only shelters from the rain. I walked around the corner to the closest place that I could see, an ice cream shop. I thought I would go in and buy at least a coffee to warm up and then decide what to do. But they didn’t sell coffee, only ice cream. I felt I needed to buy something in order to stay inside so I ordered a small cup of ice cream. Not what I really needed, but that’s ok, I made that ice cream last so I could sit inside and be warm, while I figured out what to do.
I decided as I sat there that I could wait for the next bus but still, I needed to get back outside and hope that the bus would come on schedule. It was close to Christmas and the trolley was running late many times. I decided to call my son, and he came to pick me up in Newington. I was grateful I could call him and that he would pick me up… what if… I had no one?
I was starting to have flashbacks of a time when my son and I were homeless, it was winter then, also. I remember walking into Crossroads (it was the late 90’s.) I asked for shelter for my son and myself. The woman working there told me that they were full and at overcapacity and that they could not help us. I wanted to stay there and argue with her about why they could be over capacity of three people but deny two more… but it was late and getting dark, and I was tired, and my son was upset. I left swearing never to ever have anything to do with them again. I have kept my word. I never did.
Meanwhile, as I was waiting, I also was thinking about what I had been reading about lately in the local newspapers. About people who are homeless, who live outside. Also, on local social media, there were a few conversations on the subject.
I read current stories of homelessness on the seacoast, the shortage of housing and economic struggles of many. I knew this struggle well, as a single mom. I knew the heartbreak of not having anyone to turn to for help when we were homeless. We were lucky that a stranger helped us along with the town of Newington, as we had been staying at the Newington Inn at the time. Waiting for public housing from December until the very last day before tourist season and the last day we could stay in the motel, was stressful but we did get out on the last day. I remember calling Ted Connors from PHA, so many times, asking when we will get into housing…
We got in right before my son graduated high school, so he didn’t have to graduate while being homeless. I was so happy about that. He seemed to have weathered the storm. I remember once talking to him in later years about it and he said he just remembered being really irritated about the whole situation. Was he lucky enough to have come through this experience mostly unscathed? I think for the most part, but we never really talked about it that much in detail about it. Also, he was doing so well so it was hard to ask him to remember those bad times.
For me it was a different story. I did not escape the severe stress and trauma and ended up very ill. Not being able to take care of my child and an uncertain future of where we would live was, I guess, too much for me. I never fully recovered but I do well to say I am always in recovery… It is not the only thing that contributed to my illness but was a huge part of it.
So, after all this being said, I knew I was going to take action in some way. I knew hanging free coats, having candlelight vigils, and knitting scarves were all done in good will, because many people do what they can, but most definitely these things could not take the place of giving shelter to those in need. I thought of starting a petition in hopes it would help in creating places of shelter during cold and severe weather, in Portsmouth.
While we have addressed the homeless population in Portsmouth and the seacoast with shelters, we know they are at overcapacity and there are people left out in the cold. Severe cold weather or stormy weather can cause hypothermia and death. Even less than freezing weather can cause hypothermia if people are outside all the time, or if they get wet and cannot dry their clothing. This is especially true for older people or children, but really, anyone. One can even get hypothermia inside an unheated building. This tells you just how dangerous living outside can be. I consider this to be an emergency.
Please do the right thing by providing warmth to those who need it.
I believe that the old saying holds true, “if you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem”
Lets’ be part of the solution.