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CARLTON FLETCHER: Homeless find no warmth or sympathy on Albany streets

OPINION: Cold weather a reminder of the cruelty of life

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Askin’ myself if I’ve got what it takes To melt your icy blue heart.

John Hiatt

As I drove around the city Monday, watching people react to weather more suitable to places like the Albany and Augusta that are state capitals way north of here, I couldn’t help but think of the words shouted across the newsroom earlier in the day.

“The lowest temperature we had all of last year was 26 degrees.”

In case you’d forgotten, this is winter.

During my drive, I happened upon some of the people who have become as much landmarks around these parts as the East Albany sand dunes, the shoals along the Flint River and the old railroad trestle that connects the city’s eastside and westside. They’re members of the growing homeless population that’s taken up in the city, people relegated to life on the streets. And, despite what the 2010 census revealed, their numbers here are growing.

(If local watchdog groups want to get up in arms over wasted government funds, incidentally, the census takers who worked our area would be a pretty good place to start. These stalwarts of efficiency spent thousands of our tax dollars and holed up a week in the city doing a homeless count, and you know what they came up with? One. Think maybe someone didn’t take their task too seriously? I can come up with a higher count than that walking from The Herald building to our adjacent parking lot every evening.)

As I watched these forlorn people, some of them “regulars” who’ve appropriated pet names from the citizens they encounter, a few things occurred. First, I thanked God for folks like the volunteers who help out at the Albany Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, Mission: Change and other similar organizations. When weather gets like this, not only do these folks shelter as many of the homeless as they can, they ride around looking for them at places they frequent.

The second thing that hit me as I watched these lost souls drift about the city’s streets: The looks of desperation that are usually on their faces were present, but there was something else as well. There were looks of fear, born of the realization that this is the kind of weather that kills.

The other thing that nagged at me during my drive was an email sent to me recently by someone who wanted to make sure I was aware what a big … well, decorum dictates that I not share, but suffice it to say it was not a compliment … I was because I’d written a column sympathetic toward “these homeless bums who are part of the entitlement crowd.” This kind-hearted soul, after making certain I was aware of my place in the grand scheme of things, closed his sentimental piece with words I’ve had trouble forgetting: “What you don’t get is that we’d all be a lot better off if these low-lifes you worry so much about would just go ahead and die off and leave the rest of us in peace.”

As that very real possibility emerged with the Arctic blast that somehow got lost on its way to the North Pole and made a turn southward (nope, no such thing as climate change around here), I hoped with all my heart that the person who wrote those words — and others who feel the same way but are a tad more decorous — didn’t remember them. I hoped that he’d used an extreme to make a point rather than to express true feelings.

Because while death of any sort is no picnic, I’m told freezing to death is about as miserable an experience as a being can suffer. And while I certainly have my days, I would not wish that kind of demise on the worst of my enemies.

One other thing hit me as all these thoughts chased me around the city: As low as the temperatures dropped, they couldn’t approach the coldness that settles into some people’s hearts.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.