A few weeks ago, a homeless man was found frozen to death just two blocks from my office, under a foot bridge that crosses the north branch of the Chicago River. He'd been there a while and was frozen solid, his body temperature was 20 degrees, according to the doctors who examined him.

I knew exactly where he'd been found.

About 18 years ago (when I was still in college) I'd spend most of an evening sitting by a campfire near that spot with Larry and Denny, two homeless men who were camped for the night by the river. It was early January, and I was walking over the bridge when I heard them arguing below. They were both drunk, falling down as they pushed a shopping cart full of wood along a path by the river.

"What are you looking at," they asked me. "Why don't you come down and help us."

Being a college student, that's what I did. We pushed the cart along to their campsite, and then chatted as they lit a fire. I left for a bit, then came back with some coats for them--I had an extra one in my closet as did my friend Todd, and Denny and Larry really needed new coats. (I realized later that my coat had my checkbook in it.)

"I'm tired of living like this," said Denny at one point, but then he stopped, interrupted by Larry, who needed something. We left them about midnight, and went back to our warm dorm rooms, and never saw them again.

I was thinking about Denny and Larry yesterday, when I went down to the place where "the frozen man" as he'd been called, was found, near a little shelter at the end of the bride.

This was all that was left of his life--a pair of leather sandals, a blue shirt, a little glass jar, and some cardboard he'd been sleeping on. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn ahd the man's last resting place just after he was found.

Here's what he wrote:

"What led this man to such a lonely, miserable end, trudging in sandals down an icy embankment and crawling up into a graffiti-spattered niche that would become his tomb? Who, if anyone at all, is missing
him tonight?"

The "frozen man" as he's been called in news reports was so anonymous that not even a local homeless man, who's lived in the area for years, knew who he was. "Thing is, when you have nothing, you become like a wild dog," he told Zorn said. "You know only one word: survival."

A doctor that treated the frozen man Zorn that freezing to death is "not a particularly painful way to die, except at first." "After a while, the body stops shivering as its temperature drops and its processes--including mental processes--slow way down, the doctor told Zorn. "Everything becomes numb, and consciousness becomes cloudy. Some [explorers who have nearly frozen to death] have even described feeling too hot."

Zorn closed his column this way: "Freezing to death may not be such a bad way to go. But dying unknown and unlamented has got to be the worst."

I pray that Denny and Larry have fared better than the frozen man. If no one else does, at least God will remember their names.

If you want to help people like Denny, Larry and the frozen man, here's a few ideas.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

National Coalition for the Homeless


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