AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man living at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) has a new wardrobe this week after his clothes went missing over the weekend.
Billy Barnes has been living at the downtown Austin shelter for about a year. When his clothing disappeared Saturday, he put on a hospital gown. “It was the only thing that I could wear that would fit me,” he said.
Andrea Brauer, special projects manager for Front Steps, the group that runs the ARCH, wasn’t working Saturday but was in the area and saw Barnes. “They call him ‘Big Happy.'”
“Came to work two days later and he still had the hospital gown on,” Brauer said. “So I thought, okay, that’s crazy, somebody shouldn’t have to wear a hospital gown.”
She posted Barnes’ story to the volunteer group Austin Allies’ Facebook page. “Within minutes we had people [responding], ‘Where can I send money? Can I go shopping?'” said Erika Nowlin, executive director of Austin Allies. “‘What does he need? What are his sizes?'”
It took a special trip to a big and tall store in north Austin to find clothes in his sizes. Brauer said a volunteer was there within two hours filling a shopping cart.
“The store clerks at DXL were pitching in themselves,” she said.
Tuesday, the volunteer who’d spent her own money showed up at the ARCH with her teenage son and delivered several shopping bags filled with shirts, shorts, shoes and other necessities to Barnes.
“Without these organizations, I would still be in a hospital gown, with no underwear, no socks, and sitting out here in the heat, sweating, looking silly,” Barnes said.
Brauer said the fast work by caring volunteers illustrates a reaction she wishes was more common in the midst of heated discussions about homelessness happening throughout Austin.
“There were no questions asked, there was no judgment,” she said. “There was just, ‘How can I help?'”
Barnes, now decked out in his new threads, is working to find housing. It’s been a long process, but he hasn’t lost his smile.
He’s thankful for the help of the volunteers who saw his need and wanted to do something about it, and he hopes others do the same for folks in his position.
“We need you all. We need all the support that we can get here, because there’s a lot of people hurting,” he said. “There’s a lot of sadness out here. There’s a lot of people that need love.”