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As the sun rises a night binner sets

November 12, 2014


Monday morning, as I replaced the remaining sleep in my system with hot coffee, I could look out a window of the McDonald’s and see a fellow trying to get some shuteye in the back alley.

He was curled up on his side on a narrow concrete ledge between a wooden utility pole and a building. He had his back to the wall of the building and was partially shielded from view by the utility pole.

What could be seen of him were his two blue denim-clad legs and the brown shoes on his feet. He had his knees pulled up towards his chest in an effort to conserve body heat.

He’d positioned a large black wheeled suitcase and a full bag of returnable beverage containers to create more of a wind break by his head.

His only blanket was a black jacket which he was using to cover his head and arms, nearly down to his waist.

It was close to 8 a.m. and maybe the temperature was back above freezing.

Looking at him huddled there I could see myself and every other homeless person — we’ve all potentially been where he was, however briefly.

I didn’t come close to pitying or feeling sorry for him though, anymore than I feel sorry for myself. But I sympathized and I understood.

A method to his madness

For one reason or another he had almost certainly stayed up all night ranging through back alleys picking returnable beverage containers.

Maybe he stayed up and on the move through the sub-zero night because he was trying to get the best binning with the least competition or he really didn’t have suitable blankets or other cover and knew he’d keep warmer if he kept moving.

He would’ve been exhausted by dawn but by then the temperature would’ve been moving back above freezing and he would’ve been tired enough to sleep through the chill.

There was little chance he would suffer hypothermia because the McDonald’s would be open.

Passers-by might even tale pity on him and drop him some money.

And when I next checked up on him he wasn’t sleeping anymore. He was sitting in the restaurant having a coffee and reading the paper.

What a difference experience makes

Right now, Tuesday evening, the temperature is 2°C with an expected low by the early morning between -1 and -5°C. Monday night it probably fell below freezing.

I wouldn’t know, even though I’m homeless and sleeping outside, I slept comfortably warm through the night.

People who have slept in unheated cabins and tents will remember getting out of toasty sleeping bags or beds piled with warm blankets and they will understand how it was that I only felt the bite of cold as I was getting up in my parkade Tuesday morning.

A decade ago, when I became homeless, the first best place I could find to sleep was a fairly exposed expanse of concrete by a public building and all I had was an aluminized  Mylar emergency blanket. I vividly remember how tightly I tried to wrap it around me to keep warm and how the cold found every little opening.

And I remember other fall and winter nights later on when by choice or necessity I stayed up binning all night.

The time always came when there were no more back alleys to check and no more returnable containers to find — and that time always seemed to come three to five hours before a bottle depot opened.

I learned that I felt the cold far more keenly when I was tired and that it was always better to get a good night’s sleep.

However, I should say that I woke a few times early Tuesday morning. when the temperature was surely near its lowest point.

I could actually hear a dumpster diver patiently rooting through some garbage — for maybe two hours —  within earshot of where I slept.

Maybe it was the same guy I saw sleeping outside the McDonald’s. Click the image to enlarge it.

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