This winter will end. It started in the middle of fall and may not subside until the middle of spring, but it will end, having unfolded in two separate years and two very different gubernatorial administrations.

We can be hopeful that by this winter’s end, our state and our community will have enacted changes that will represent a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable among us, through expanded access to health care and through energized efforts to help lift people out of homelessness and poverty.

Gov.-elect Janet Mills’ assurances and convictions regarding Medicaid expansion are a cause for optimism. So is the city of Portland’s demonstrated prioritization of the needs of Portlanders facing homelessness. Come spring, perhaps we will feel that Maine has made real progress toward restoring the safety net, which, over recent years of shortsighted, indifferent and sometimes calculated decision-making, has almost entirely eroded, leaving nothing to break the fall for those who experience hardships.

This winter will end, but it began weeks ago, ahead of schedule. Already, it has claimed victims. And there will be more.

Consider, for a moment, your life, with all its complexity and challenges. Now, erase all of your financial resources, your shelter, your transportation, the certainty of your next meal, your assumptions about your safety, your expectation of kindness and good will from others in the community, your ability to attend to basic hygiene, your access to care and treatment and any support from stable, well-intentioned family and friends.

Also subtract most of the already meager accessible supports you believe this community provides to those with such a scarcity of resources. Erase most of the dwindled list of warm, safe spaces that Portland offers to those in your state of existence, along with the places that offered clothing and a hot meal. Reduce, too, the already small number of people engaged in outreach, who might have offered you the support needed to survive and take steps to improve your life’s condition.

And now, for most if not all of every day, add in the cold. Add in the wind chill and the icy sidewalks and the freezing rain, clothes too thin, fingers frozen, toes curled up inside cold, wet socks. Add in the cold, gray days and the nights that seem endless.

The promise of 2019 is real. The hope in the air is palpable. Those of us who are committed to helping those who struggle with homelessness, poverty, mental illness, health care inequity and hunger, as we do across our programs at Amistad, are determined to seize this moment to help our state and community make radical improvements.

The promise of the year ahead is real, but the anxiety and fear surrounding this winter are real as well. On the coldest nights and shortest days of the weeks and weeks that lie ahead of us, many will be out of doors by no choice of their own. Calling this unacceptable does not change the reality. Pending, overdue policy changes won’t alter the reality overnight.

Inevitably, tragically, there are community members among us today who will knock on their last locked door this winter. Come spring, we will reflect on this loss of life. We will dig in and work as hard as we can, to make state and community changes that might soften the impact of winters to come.

These efforts will be fueled by a determination to ensure that those who died this winter because our society did not prioritize their survival will not be forgotten. Come spring, we will remember them all.

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