AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the year comes to a close in Austin, Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) has been inundated with blankets.
The ARCH has hosted blanket drives in previous winters to help people experiencing homelessness through the winter, but they learned that not all blankets last and really keep a person warm at night. So for the first time in November of 2019, they made a specific ask: calling for larger more durable blankets to offer more protection from cold winter nights.
Front Steps, the nonprofit who operates the ARCH, explained that the public surpassed their expectations for donations. By last week, they had hit their goal of collecting 1,000 blankets.
The blankets came from all over the U.S., even as far as Canada. Front Steps said that most were sent anonymously. One company, Mission Critical Facilities International, decided to make the drive a workplace project, collecting 230 blankets.
Some blankets were sent with notes, one read, “sent with love and respect to a fellow Austinite who needs some extra warmth.”
“In years previous, we’ve gotten anywhere from a hundred to a couple of hundred and this year, we did this ask and the community has really stepped up,” said Greg McCormack, the executive director of Front Steps.
“Just last week, our halls were full of boxes,” McCormack said. “People were sending one, two, twenty blankets — it’s been incredible, we’ve never had this magnitude of support.”
When you go downtown, you can see many people in the area around the ARCH wrapped up in these blankets.
Staff at the ARCH are under no illusions that a blanket will end someone’s homelessness. But they do believe these gifts have the potential to make the winter more bearable and the potential to show people living on the streets that their neighbors in the community care.
After a year of difficult and tense discussions in Austin about how to best address homelessness, this drive offers a small way to wrap 1,000 members of the homeless community in a blanket of support.
Many people experiencing homelessness tell KXAN these blankets have been valuable for them.
62-year-old Wanda Jean Foster sleeps on the streets in Austin, she says her blankets are her prized possessions. At night, she will layer as many of them as she can to stay warm.
“Like last night,” Foster said. “My feet were cold, my face was cold.”
Recently, people came up to her and gave her some new, donated blankets.
“They’re helpful, really helpful,” she explained.
What she would really like to get is a house so that she can get on her feet and someday start a ministry of her own. Foster said she would like to work helping the elderly and other people experiencing homelessness.
She told KXAN that if Austinites want to help people like her, they should “donate some money to a nonprofit organization.”
That is what ARCH is asking for as well. Front Steps has more than enough blankets now, so they are asking those who want to help to donate to the work they do year-round.
As the ARCH has transitioned to a more housing-focused model this year, McCormack said that more funds will be necessary to help connect their clients with things like ID’s and the tools to get into housing.
“That’s gonna take some dollars to help with deposits, with the rent, and supporting them while they get on their feet,” he explained.
McCormack added that while people in the public might think more about giving back to people who are experiencing homelessness over the holidays, “[Front Steps] does this work all year round. “
“Think about how you’re able to contribute, either ongoing or every now and then to all the organizations doing this work,” he said.