…a Society for Helping to Enhance Lives via Temperature Equilibrium Retention.
“Until everyone gets to go home somewhere, we all need to have S.H.E.L.T.E.R. in our lives.”
Shelter is one of the basic needs for human survival. Why is that exactly? I got to thinking about this recently( I’ll tell you why in a bit). Well, we need some place where we can stay warm and dry, or cool and dry, but not so dry as to become dehydrated. So what shelter really represents for us, in essence, is the ability to regulate & stably maintain the temperature of our bodies and possibly the relative humidity in the immediate , so that we don’t lose too much moisture, nor get wind-whipped and lose too much heat, nor be baked alive by the sun, or waterlogged from precipitation which changes nervous system response to prioritize balance & tactile sensitivity & thus interfes with autonomic reactions such as immune function at the same time as it provides a favorable environment for microorganisms we don't encounter otherwise.
Shelter is our means to avoid exposure to extremes of temperature, humidity, and atmospheric disturbance; the more we mitigate those extremes the less we feel the want of shelter when denied such by circumstances.
Thursday night I got stuck out close to midnight. I’d forgotten my wallet and my phone died. It was a long way home. A much longer way than I ever anticipated going on foot, and the cold so much deeper than it seemed at first; although my nice leather jacket and just a pair of cargo pants were sufficient to keep my legs and torso warm, my double-gloved hands & bare face, slashed by the winds tearing down every long straight road, felt cold like I’ve never experienced before. My toes too, when three layers of socks were finally soaked through; and the cold infiltrated to my core as I tried to warm my extremities and chilled blood flooded back towards my heart. I shivered harder than I ever had, and I would say the pain just from the cold was probably at 6. I typically don’t rate pain higher than that, and reserve 7 for bad sprains, the kind that mean possible hairline fractures. When I had a stomach ulcer, that was my only 9.
Some people have to live in that environment. I was very aware of them as I made the long trek home—a couple miles in weather that when I got home, Google Home told me was 11°F. The last half-mile was hardest, sobbing aloud and struggling at every street corner to push myself past the wind and to another moment of shelter in a doorway. I had minor frostbite, and the heat after I got inside bardly seemed to touch me. I just curled up in bed, half-dressed still, and cried from the pain for another half hour until I fell asleep. I woke up Friday still a little cold all through my body. While it’s true that I feel a sensation a hell of a lot more acutely and deeply than most, that’s not even the coldest New England gets in winter, and even for those who become acclimated, it’s still not healthy, let alone comfortable. I almost cried again thinking of them, and I wondered, “What can I do about this? What can WE do about this, those of us who are lucky enough to have four walls and a roof and maybe heating & air conditioning?”
S.H.E.L.T.E.R. is what I came up with mulling it over for about an hour or so Friday morning. At first I was thinking, “What I WANT to do is run—brrr, well maybe take an Uber—right out and buy scarves & hats & lightweight gloves or glove liners—the kind that work with touch screens, because I know that my homeless friends rely on their phones to coordinate where they might be able to go, but taking off winter gloves and exposing skin is how my hands got cold despite layers.” I figured, “I’ll put them in my bag and distribute them to panhandlers and others who look cold and clearly have nowhere to go. …why just me? This is way too big for one person alone.
“What about a group? An organization, something people can volunteer for, yeah. What do I call it? Shelter, because that’s what I needed with the wind clawing at my skin; can I make a good backronym? Starts with an S, so probably Society, it’s got a t so that’s going to be Temperature, Temperature E.R.... Equilibrium Retention! S.H. Society for Helping E.L., Helping to... Enhance Lives. So easy and perfect it’s almost like fate; the Society for Helping to Enhance Lives via Temperature Equilibrium Retention, S.H.E.L.T.E.R..
“Yeah: collect donations, buy & give to each participant the things we’ll carry to distribute and help keep the needy warm—O.K., warm’s great in the winter, but, it’s February; winter might get fierce for a little while, but then will be gone. So what about summer? Well, personal cooling? O.K., sun visors, personal electric fans, those neck cooling things you fill with cold water. For the fans, maybe rechargeable batteries so they don’t have to buy new ones and aren’t constantly adding significant volume to landfills—but also interchangeable; volunteers could charge them at home on charging bases then take them out and swap them with people who already had the fans but with batteries run down and no place to plug in. So maybe instead of working out of our own normal bags, distribute bags with a logo to help spread the word and to be identifiable to people who need us. Yeah, but just a lightweight bag that can be folded up and put in a pocket or a regular bag after running out so that people won’t be disappointed or harass volunteers who need to restock.”
“So, what else to do to spread the word? And how to prevent abuse? That is, prevent people from, say, trying to pose as homeless so they can collect and resell the items. O.K., so what if the price of getting something from a S.H.E.L.T.E.R. volunteer is a geotagged-&-time/datestamped selfie together for our website? We can post them on a photo-map thingy like panoramio. Smiles of people whose lives are improved by S.H.E.L.T.E.R. makes a great visual aid for potential donors; at the same time, this allows us to keep track and make sure somebody isn’t getting dozens of handouts over the course of a single day or week, and socially it’s very unlikely that people who don’t actually need it would want to be seen online taking handouts, let alone publicly outed as defrauding a charity.
“This also prevents our volunteers from abusing the same way; by requiring any reported giveaway that isn’t matched to a photo to be reimbursed before they are afforded more supplies, and in the digital age the photo can be tagged. If we commission a smartphone app, a computer system could even automatically keep track of their supply and when they need to restock, and maybe if the photos are auto-uploaded, if anything happens to a volunteer, we have some idea of where he or she last distributed items.”
That’s where I stopped. I’m an idea guy, but the nitty-gritty of organizing anything is something I can only manage in short bursts, which I currently have to devote mostly to scrambling for some kind of personal individual future; after suffering a long string of failure, augmented by massive losses beyond my control, my life right now is more of a mess than ever, and my resources are less than ever.
My source of funds is gone, my retirement/backup plan is gone, most of the links to the better part of my social life are gone, the people I love most are distant and falling away( old, or sick, or in jail, or status unknown), and my stable home & sole investment is going( since returning in June I've burned through around 17–18% of my equity, and barely replaced what I’d guess to be 40% of essentials, 10% of all lost).
Still, it’s a nice idea, S.H.E.L.T.E.R., one of those “If I had a million dollars...” things, and I thought I’d share.