CINCINNATI — Social distancing will be hard for everyone once cold weather takes a grip on Cincinnati, but the ones perhaps most affected by COVID-19 restrictions in the winter months are people experiencing homelessness.
That’s the reason why Brightview, a local addiction recovery center, is kicking-off a “Coats that Care” emergency winter coat drive. The organization is asking the public to drop off jackets, gloves, hats and scarves at its facilities now through February.
“Oftentimes, homelessness does come with substance abuse disorder,” said Brightview community outreach manager Amy Parker. “If we don’t have a safe space to live when we are trying to find recovery, it's really difficult to have that sustaining recovery. So if we are able to connect with folks inside the community just by saying we are thinking of you, here’s just something.”
After the winter clothing items are collected at Brightview locations, they’ll be sanitized and distributed to Maslow’s Army and Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health. It’s groups like Maslow’s Army that are seeing first-hand the effect of COVID-19 on the homeless population.
“We are very low on resources,” said Maslow’s Army chief advisor Brian Garry. “COVID really hit us hard as a provider that our own resources are now depleted.”
Maslow’s Army provides regular outreach Sundays on the plaza outside the Hamilton Co. Justice Center. It offers everything from food to peer-to-peer counseling to, most recently, COVID-19 testing.
The coats collected by Brightview will be another resource utilized by Maslow’s Army to help equip people experiencing homelessness during the winter.
“Every few minutes someone is calling us and asking us for a coat,” Garry said. “That’s going to save their lives because the needs of people are food, shelter and clothing and people need warm winter clothing to stay alive in these harsh winters that we have.”
This winter will be especially challenging because homeless shelters will need to abide by 6-foot distancing rules, which will greatly reduce their capacities.
“Where are you going to stay out of the elements? Where are you going to stay safe? As a homeless individual the social distancing that has to occur in the shelters is really restricting,” Garry said.
According to Strategies to End Homelessness, the pandemic has caused a 13% decline in the people served by shelters through August 2020 compared to last year, but the people experiencing housing insecurity have increased by 35%.
Parker said he hopes the coat drive is one more way people will be helped through tough winter months this year, and possibly steered toward helpful resources as well.
“We hope that by doing that, the interactions that people are having will eventually lead them to a place like Brightview or other agencies where they can find treatment and where they can be connected to for other resources,” she said. “It's just one more avenue to reach people on a different, much more compassionate level.”