I was one of the people out in the cold on Valentine’s Day. I’d hoped the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter would stay open, but it didn’t. Dawn, a former founder of the company, called some other shelters for us to see if we could stay there, but they said we couldn’t: they were already full to capacity.
Pine Street Inn, Rosie’s Place, the Southampton Street Shelter, St. Francis House, the Salvation Army (Cambridge and Boston), the Shattuck Shelter, Father Bill’s and other local shelters, including Albany Street Shelter, were all open during the day, but they were overcrowded due to the number of people coming in from the cold.
With the temperature under -11 degrees Fahrenheit, the only shelter that closed for the day was the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. The security guard had to leave at noon and a replacement security guard couldn’t come in, so we were all forced out into the freezing cold on Valentine’s Day.
I couldn’t breath when I left the shelter because the wind was so bad. I got lucky though. God smiled on me and made it so I could get safe and warm in the Capital One 360 bank cafe on JFK Street in the Square. I was surprised to find them open because the one on Boylston Street in Copley Square is closed on Sundays.
The bank cafe stayed open even after I went back to the shelter at 7:30pm. Dawn and Sunshine, women who work at the shelter, not only called the other shelters in the Cambridge and Boston area, but they also called the shelter at the University Lutheran Church. The church said it didn’t have a say in whether or not the shelter stayed open, but we were welcome to come to the services.
Other churches said the same thing. Sunshine contacted one of the Marriott’s affiliate hotels in Harvard Square, but the hotel wouldn’t take people in because it was holding an event. Together, Dawn and Sunshine spent three hours looking for a place where the guests of Harvard Square Homeless Shelter could go and stay warm. The places nearby were either too full or too busy, while the usual places people were too far away.
If people spent too long in the cold, they’d probably get frostbite or have a serious medical emergency, resulting in them being rushed to the hospital. I’m grateful to Capital One 360 for being open, especially when I thought they would be closed. I thank god I’m not dead or seriously hurt.
When I woke up the next day, I heard on the news that because of the deep freeze across the country, people had been getting into a lot of car accidents. A few people were killed in accidents on the road. I experienced how bad it was in the cold first hand. Even when I went back to the shelter, I still couldn’t breathe. My fingers were cold, and I felt numb despite wearing two pairs of gloves.
I wore two pairs of pants, three shirts and two coats, and I still felt chilled to the bone due to the cold on Valentine’s Day. I’m lucky I only walked one block away from the shelter; others weren’t so luck. One woman said it took her a while to get to the shelter because she had to keep stopping every now and then to go inside somewhere to get warm.
Other people who showed up at the shelter as the night progressed said they had similar experiences. They had to find places nearby because they couldn’t get into the shelters that were open that day. I wish I knew why the mayor of Cambridge didn’t close the city like they did throughout the rest of the state, but I hope it was a good reason, because people could have died in the Valentine’s Day freeze here in Massachusetts.
I will have to watch the news to see if anybody else was hurt and to see if they report any deaths from the freezing cold weather on Valentine’s Day.
Beatrice Bell is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.