Austin (KXAN) — As we enter into the season of giving, Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless (commonly known as the ARCH) has a specific request: donate large, durable blankets.
The ARCH is making this request for the very first time, based on feedback they’ve received from people experiencing homelessness in years past.
“Instead of just asking for any blankets, which are always great, this year, we’re asking for specific blankets because we know what the individuals who are outside or are coming into the ARCH need,” explained Greg McCormack, the executive director of Front Steps (the organization which operates the ARCH). “So this drive is kind of a targeted drive, trying to give the people who are using the blankets something they can use, not one night, not two nights, but many nights.”
In years past, McCormack explained, people have often donated smaller throws, and the people receiving the donations have needed multiple of those to actually cover their bodies and stay warm at night.
“So you think about, if someone is carrying things around on their back, it’s all they have, they need to be able to protect it and keep it for that night, so we’re wanting things that will be sturdy and keep someone warm during the night and cover their entire body,” McCormack said.
What they’re looking for
Front Steps is looking for blankets that are at least twin size or full. Any blankets smaller than 66 inches by 90 inches are too small.
“The warmth of a blanket must be worth the weight/space” a flier for the blanket drive noted.
The ARCH has included more details about the drive and links to the types of blankets they’re looking for on their website.
Donations can be shipped to the ARCH or dropped off at their shelter location. In total, Front Steps is aiming to collect 1,000 blankets during this drive. The blankets will be given to both the 130 people staying in their shelter and to people experiencing homelessness who are in the surrounding downtown area.
The ARCH will be taking in donations all of November and December.
McCormack explained that these blankets are very helpful for people experiencing homelessness during the winter months.
A blanket is no substitute for having a safe place to sleep every night. But as Austin continues to grapple with how best to address homelessness and how to better support those who are unsheltered, a sturdy blanket can offer warmth when the temperatures get uncomfortably cold.
“It helps to protect someone from the elements, keeps them warm, keeps them safe, and we know that the healthier a person is, the better decisions a person will make,” McCormack said. “They also get the feeling that the community cares, that the community is helping them and giving something directly going towards them. And when it’s something of good quality and something they can keep for a while, I think it makes a difference.”
Speaking with KXAN on Thanksgiving, McCormack said this blanket drive is aimed at encouraging people to donate in a way that will make the greatest impact.
“This holiday makes us think about what we’re thankful for, I’ve talked with my family about it today and I think it can remind us all of how lucky we have been and are,” he said. “We need to be able to give back and help those who are less fortunate, those who are homeless, and this is one way to do that.”
70-year-old Glenn Davis already knows how difficult cold winters can be outside in Austin. He is experiencing homelessness and has been for the past year or so. He explained that unhealthy alcohol use was what ultimately led him to be without a home.
Davis gets services at the ARCH, but he sleeps outside.
Sleeping outside during the colder weather, he says, “it’s cold, it’s heartbreaking, it’s just bad you know, nothing good about it.”
He explained that a small pile of belongings at his feet and a backpack are the only possessions he has. When he needs to stay warm at night, he says the only thing he owns that separates him from the cold are thin blankets.
“I don’t have blankets real thick enough to keep me warm, so I have to keep moving around to a warmer place you know,” Davis said. “Sometimes I go to a building that might have a heat gate that lets out heat and I go there.”
What Davis would really like is a room or an apartment to call his own. He said he’d be happy to stay in a renovated old apartment or motel, and coincidentally the City of Austin may soon have some options like that available.
While he waits for a housing option, would he like to receive a large, durable blanket?
“Oh that would be awesome, that would really help a lot,” Davis said. “Because thin blankets are not doing nothing as far as keeping the cold off.”
Changes at the ARCH
The ARCH, which operates a shelter for men downtown, told KXAN last month that the shelter has been at capacity since they switched from a walk-in model to a reservations-only model this year.
The city opted to make these changes at the ARCH, which decreased the number of people who can stay there each night from 190 to 130 beds in hopes of making sure that more of those people are enrolled in services and on the path to housing.
Before changes in the past few months, Front Steps staff have emphasized that while they are helping many people inside their shelter, a majority of the people who hang out on the street outside the shelter do not actually come inside to seek services. There have been a number of different attempts in recent years to try and get the people who are hanging out around the ARCH the support they need.
The ARCH has also been part of a new city plan called “The Guided Path” initiative, which aims to focus on people experiencing homelessness in the area around the ARCH. The plan is to work with partner organizations to speak with every single person who has been sleeping outside the ARCH, talk with them about what they need, get them enrolled in services, and get them on the path to housing. The city has already begun identifying people who are experiencing homelessness through Guided Path and connecting them with things like housing, respite care and enrollment in programs.
“We’re hoping through our transformation that we’re going to be able to house more people than we’ve ever housed before through our new system of services, the way we’re working with clients,” McCormack said. “And I’m also hopeful of some of the actions that not only the city is taking, but the Chamber [of Commerce] is also looking at some things, I hope everybody pitches in, I hope we can get more resources, more shelters and get more people off the streets.”