Free clothes closet for Austin’s homeless men celebrates 20 years

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — At a room in the Central Presbyterian Church on Monday, one wall was lined with shoes and two other walls were lined with racks of clothing — all sorted by size. One by one, men who are enrolled in services at Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) entered the church and waited their turn to “go shopping” through the racks of impeccably organized free clothing.

Monday, the volunteers from the Capital District United Methodist Men brought a special cake to celebrate the 20 years they have coordinated this event. Each Monday, these volunteers show up downtown with clothing, shoes, socks, undergarments, and belts, with a sorting strategy that appears worked down to a science.

A cake to celebrate 20 years of volunteers facilitating the “clothes closet” for homeless men in Austin. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

ARCH, which serves as a shelter for homeless men in Austin, allows their clients to get vouchers once a month to go shopping for five items of clothing (pants, shirts, t-shirts, socks, underwear) in the clothes closet. Belts and shoes are available to clients once every three months.

Employees at the ARCH explained to KXAN that these volunteers will adjust belts to get the right sizing and have a special apparatus for measuring shoe size.

This month, the volunteers are also celebrating helping their 25,000th homeless client.

“We have folks that come to the ARCH and try to help out a lot,” explained Greg McCormack, the executive Director of Front Steps who operates the ARCH. “The number one thing I get asked is, ‘when are the guys coming here with the clothes?'”

McCormack explained that for people experiencing homelessness, these clothes can give them confidence, help them prepare for job interviews or keep them warm.

“What you guys are doing here is nothing short of changing people’s lives,” McCormack said to the volunteers Monday morning.

People experiencing homelessness in Austin wait their turn in line to pick out free clothing from the “Clothes Closet.” (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard).

McCormack acknowledged that this is a time at which homeless people in Austin have been thrown in the middle of political actions and policy changes.

“This is an interesting time in Austin for sure,” he said.

McCormack went on to explain that that very morning Austin Police would begin the initial clearing of encampments outside the ARCH. People who seek shelter inside the ARCH should not be impacted by these cleanups, McCormack said.

The ARCH has also been involved, along with many other homeless service providers, in the city’s new Guided Path initiative which aims to get homeless people more connected with services.

All of this is happening as Austin grapples with how to best address homelessness and navigates the heated discourse that has escalated on the topic since the city council moved to repeal the city’s camping ban in June.

But regardless of the politics at play outside, the men picking out clothes inside the church grinned as they tried out new belts and sweatshirts.

Joshua Steward, who said he is a client at the ARCH, was on the hunt for a new coat Monday. The coat he was wearing when he walked in was a women’s coat, and he wants something “nice” to wear.

The choice aspect of going shopping is fun for Steward.

“That’s what I like,” he said.

“That’s how we should do it, like, that’s how we should do it so we could pick what we want, even if it’s free, you still got a choice, you still got a choice if it’s free or not,” Steward said.
“I’m glad they got it and you can pick through it.”

KXAN ran into Steward later that day, he proudly modeled his new Texas A&M parka with faux fur lining.

The ARCH does not accept clothing donations, they say they simply don’t have enough space. However, if you want to volunteer with or donate to the Clothes Closet, contact Bob Callison at bobbycallison@swbell.net.

Joshua Steward smiles, showing off the new coat he picked out at the “Clothes Closet.” (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

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