Column: Don’t be a grinch this Christmas

Reporter Kate Saylors reflects on the recent announcement of a warming centre for Grand Forks.

‘Tis the season to behave like a Grinch and wish that your fellow humans would freeze to death in the spirit of “not enabling them.”

Wait, that’s not how the song goes? You wouldn’t know it, not in Grand Forks lately.

Last week this paper broke the news that a substantial community effort had coalesced into the opening of a winter warming centre. It is due to open in the very near future (possibly even before this newspaper is a week old) to provide a warm, safe place to people who might be getting a little chilly right about now.

I saw the reaction to this story coming from a mile away. I posted the story on Friday afternoon, and all weekend my phone was buzzing with comments, shares and discussion of the project – the good, the potentially bad (potentially as, remember, it hasn’t opened yet) and, naturally, a moral discussion of whether or not the community was just continuing to “enable these drug addicts and thieves.”

Before I say anything, I do think I should note that I live within a five minute walk of the property that will house this warming centre. It is very much “in my backyard,” as they say.

I believe there are moral absolutes. No one deserves to go hungry, no one deserves to be sick, everyone deserves access to quality health care and, relevant to this discussion, no one deserves to be cold. No one deserves to freeze to death. No one, regardless of where they live or their social status, deserves these things. And in a society as rich and advanced as Canada, it’s inexcusable to allow it to happen because you take the invented moral high ground and pass judgment on the reasons someone might be cold.

Now, this shouldn’t be a controversial opinion, but a cursory scan of some social media this weekend shows that apparently, this still needs to be said:

We cannot allow people to freeze to death.

I don’t care why they’re cold, or what they could have done, or whether it’s their fault. We cannot allow people to freeze to death.

But okay, let’s take a step back for a minute. Let’s say we let the drug addicts sleep out in the cold. Isn’t that still a simplistic view of people who might need to warm up?

We read every year about seniors who die in cold, dark apartments because they couldn’t afford to keep the heat on. There are situations we might personally know: The single-parent families where keeping the heat on all day when the kids are home is an unfathomable burden at an already financially taxing time of year. There’s the suspension of otherwise regular social activities for the holidays; everyone gets busy, everyone will be back at it in January. I bet you know someone whose outing to the library/bridge group/kaffeeklatsch/pool is their only human interaction that week. When those activities dry up, do you know for sure they’ll speak to anyone at all?

Society has already failed in these circumstances, as far as I’m concerned. But we can’t fail them further by letting them get cold and lonely too.

Some open doors, the heat going full tilt and a pot of coffee brewing sounds like something just about any of us could use. And consider for a moment: not only does someone addicted to drugs deserve warmth in the dead of winter, but also that that individual likely won’t be the only one getting warm at this centre.

We don’t yet know who will make up the clientele of the warming centre, or the problems that might arise therein. But extreme cold, the kind we’ll be facing really soon, is a life-or-death problem that is right in front of us. And as I consider carefully that a warming centre will be moving into my backyard, I repeat what I suspect will soon become a mantra: We cannot allow people to freeze to death.

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