"I walk a dog. I know how cold it is to stand outside for just 30 minutes. But people, they're out there all day. So I just started carrying blankets around with me for them."
Jay, a DC native, mills around Franklin Park on Saturday as well. We watched him quietly chatting and visiting with people and interacting with other groups of volunteers, like those from Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, before approaching him.
"It's rough outside," he continues. "I also try to give water during winter,. Hydration is important. People think about it a lot during the summer--gets so hot--but it gets forgotten during the winter, when it's cold or there is snow and you're not thinking about sweating, about being thirsty. But they still need water."
"I'm not an organization or anything, and I don't want to be one. It's not a business, caring for other people. It's just something a person should do. Sometimes I come out here with different groups. I'm here today with my buddy; he runs the One Umbrella Foundation. But I'll just go out."
"If you want to help, then help. You can do it, too."
Jay pulls out a tiny little baggie-envelope and shows us a square of foil inside. "That's actually a blanket," he tells us, grinning. "It's great, because they stay clean and they're portable. You see people trying to cart around those big blankets and they drag everywhere and eventually get abandoned. But these? They're easy to take along with you, and they also help keep you dry. I use them when I go camping, actually. You can buy them in bulk at a great rate, too."
He scuffs his right foot on the ground where we stand just slightly off the sidewalk and looks around the park. I follow the sweep of his gaze, wondering just what he sees.
"You know, when it was snowy, everyone was all like, 'Get the homeless inside!' but days when the snow was melting? Those were gross days, it was terrible. They can sit on the ground right now, lay down if they want to." He gestured around him and we take in the scene for a moment; the thawed, dry ground; the nearly picnicking atmosphere of the park. "We can stand here and it's alright now but everything was just mud, lots of mud, and no one was saying, 'Let's get them in out of this mess.' It was too warm to think about that, there wasn't a snow or hypothermia emergency."
"So you see these lines outside a lot of the shelters. They kick people out in the morning, and everyone just stands outside all day long waiting to get back in." Jay shakes his head. "If they leave, they lose their place in the line and maybe they won't get in that night. Maybe they will have nowhere to sleep. So they're stuck standing there, waiting."
He knocks his hands together as we talk, agitated.
"I'm trying to get to a place where I can work with the city. I want to help develop a place where people can go during the daytime. Something that takes away all the waiting, that gives people more of a life than standing around until they can get back inside."
"I used to work with the city, so I know; it's complicated. Things move slowly. But I'm trying," he smiles, ruefully.
Heather Hill is the Assistant Manager of donor acquisition & digital fundraising at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She is a graduate of Houghton College, and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the Human Rights Co-Chair of the United Nations Association of the National Capitol Area, and you can find her performance reviews on MD Theatre Guide.