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After several legislative receptions tonight, on my way back to my hotel, I walked alongside a man who appeared to be homeless, pushing a bicycle with a deflated tire, towing a small cart filled with all his earthly possessions. It is currently -32F in Des Moines.
He was on the other side of the street. We walked parallel to each other for about a block. In my mind, I was immediately wondering if he had somewhere to go, if he had a plan, if he knew how cold it was going to get tonight.
After walking about a block, I called out to him to ask if he knew where he was sleeping that night. He said he didn't. I beckoned him across to my side of the street. He was hesitant about the curb, so I helped him push his bike and cart up onto the sidewalk.
We ducked into the lobby of a hotel, and he sat down on a bench to start warming up. His beard - and this is not an exaggeration - had ice frozen into his hair. I asked the young man behind the counter to get a cup of hot coffee.
I asked his name — Rick — and asked if he had a plan for tonight. He said he wanted to ask his step-mother if he could stay with her, but he wasn't sure if she was home.
I searched "Des Moines emergency shelter" and called the first place that popped up. A woman on the other end answered promptly, I asked if they had any space tonight, and they said they were out of beds, but they had chairs. But Rick would have to leave his bike & cart outside.
Rick then asked me where the shelter was. I told him, and he said, "Oh nah. That place has bugs. It's terrible." The person on the other end of the line was telling me that Rick hadn't stayed there before. I wasn't totally sure what to make of this exchange.
So we then called his step-mom, who he was hoping to stay with. As luck would have it, she was home and was okay with him stopping by. And she wasn't too far away. I wanted to give Rick a ride, but his cart and bike wouldn't even come close to fitting in my car.
We chatted a bit. He had gotten hooked on drugs. Did some things to try and be able to afford drugs. Spent some time in prison. He got out of prison, but he couldn't find a job, and even though he's spent the last nine years clean, he's been unable to secure permanent housing.
We talked for a while as he thawed and the ice in his beard melted and then dried out. He held the cup of coffee only for short moments at a time, his hands so cold that he couldn't bear the heat for more than a few seconds.
He decided he wanted to head out to get to his step mom's place about a half-mile up the street. I wanted to give him some cash, but my wallet is currently sitting in my desk at the capitol. Probably only the second time in five years I haven't had it on me. I felt awful.
So we walked back out into the night, walked another half block, and then our paths diverged. And he was gone.
I'm not sure if my intervention made much of - or any - difference. But if nothing else I'm glad he had the chance to warm up and get something hot to drink. And I'm going think more about what I can personally do — and what our legislature can do.
People will die tonight because of the cold.

I pray Rick isn't one of them.
And I almost didn't say anything. I almost didn't call out. I almost kept walking. And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be sharing any of this at all right now if that had been the choice I'd made.
I'm glad I was wearing a suit and tie and overcoat and tall and white and male and confident enough to barge into a hotel lobby without any concern as to whether or not the person behind the counter would make a fuss or would be willing to get a cup of hot coffee if I asked him.
I know I'm in an unusual position of privilege to be able to do so - but if you find yourself in a similar position this week, I hope you'll follow suit, even if it's not necessarily what you'd usually think to do. We're all in this together.
And please consider making a donation to your local shelther. I didn't have any change to spare for Rick, but I am making a contribution tonight to @ShelterHouseIC, and I hope you'll join me.

Just called to check - Rick made it there safe, he's warm, and he'll be staying there tonight.
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