Each year in the dead of winter, we at Open Door Mission gather with other agencies to get an accurate count of the homeless who are living on the streets—not in the shelters. On January 25th at 0-dark-30, in near-single-digit temperatures, four of us—all ODM staffers and one volunteer from our Women’s New Life Recovery Program took to the streets, alleys and homeless camps in a large area that was assigned to us.
In one area by the river, we picked up some fresh tracks in the resent 6 inch snow fall. The tracks caught our attention because along with the normal sized footprints that you would expect to see, we also saw small tracks that would indicate a woman—or a child. We trudged through a thickly wooded area that was hard to walk in because of the snow and uneven ground. A little less than one quarter mile in from the road, we came upon what looked more like an animal den than a campsite.
While still about 50 feet from the snow-covered hovel, we began to shout out, “Hello, hello, Open Door Mission, anybody home?” We didn’t want to startle anyone who might be sleeping. You never know however, if anyone is there or not. Of course your mind runs to the fact that each year a couple of homeless people are found on the streets who have succumbed to the cold weather. Indeed that has already happened this winter here in Omaha. So again we said “hello, hello.” No one answered.
I must admit, that with a lump in my throat, we raised the snow-covered tarp that was the roof to this small shelter, and thankfully no one was there. Pallets were on the cold ground. They were covered with old blankets and on top of them was an old mattress. We left a few pairs of new gloves and warm caps. We also left some clean blankets and socks along with some fresh pastry. And oh yes, some cat food for the cat that we startled. We could only pray that at that very moment the tenants of this primitive shelter were setting about a mile away in the Open Door Mission dining room with a tray of hot food in front of them.
We repeated this whole process over again that early morning. We found four campsites altogether and a couple of burn barrels—one still warm. That night as I laid my head down on my warm, soft, cozy pillow, I thanked God afresh for His daily blessings and I wiped away the tears trickling into my ears as I pictured in my mind those small footprints in the snow.
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