People Experiencing Homelessness Need Underwear and Outerwear

by | Nov 3, 2010 | Uncategorized

In mid-November, on the California coastline, Mount Carmel Lutheran Church continued its 15-year-long tradition of hosting the San Luis Obispo County Band at an event to raise money for the needs of people experiencing homelessness. As reported by Danielle Lerner, they support the particular requirements of the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter, which this year is concentrating on supplying socks, underwear, and bedding.

In Lincoln Park, Illinois, around Thanksgiving time, St. Clement’s church takes up an annual collection of hats, underwear, gloves, and socks. You will have noticed that the first letters of those words conveniently spell the friendly acronym H.U.G.S., so you wind up with the name H.U.G.S. for the Homeless.

In fact, plenty of faith-based groups and community organizations across the country have concentrated their efforts on hats, underwear, gloves, and socks. We have mentioned before the importance of wearing hats in cold weather. The human body throws off a lot of heat from the skull. A hat goes a long way toward keeping a person warm.

The extremities at the other end need warmth too. In Surviving on the Streetshomeless
cartoonist/memoirist/activist/musician Ace Backwords reveals that socks and underwear are the only articles of clothing that he buys. For anything else, used is okay. But even a street person has to draw the line somewhere. (Especially if he’s a cartoonist. You can laugh now.) Actually, Backwords has quite a lot to say about footwear in general. For instance:

If you’ve got a hole in your shoe and your socks get wet, you are very likely going to be walking around in cold, wet socks for the next few days. You might have all the other warm gear you need, but with wet socks you are going to be cold and shivering and miserable and very possibly sick… Keep in mind, you are not a normal person; you will very likely be living with your boots on, sometimes up to 24 hours a day… No point in dying with them on, too, at least not just yet.

Then Backwords goes on to tell some stories that would make your lunch try to get away from you. There is nothing glamorous about street life. There is certainly nothing glamorous about frostbite or even a runny nose. Which brings us back to Texas, which people think of as hot, but parts of it can get pretty cold on occasion.

In Austin, the annual Thermal Underwear Drive is underway. It will culminate in a January 1 blowout when all the collected clothing items will find their new owners. Plans are afoot, and funds need to be raised. Richard R. Troxell says,

This will be the 10th Annual House the Homeless Thermal Underwear Party. I’ve gotten the Rockin’ South Austin Gospel Band to again participate. Joanne will help us gather hams, turkeys, pies etc. Sylvia will run the kitchen.

Richard speaks for sponsoring organization House the Homeless, and many others support the event, including KXAN, Channel 36. News 8 posted a clip featuring reportage by Jenna Hiller and introducing Homey-too, the Thermal Underwear Drive‘s mascot, who wears a set of long johns to set a good example.

Going from underwear to outerwear, there is exciting news from Detroit, Michigan, where a 21-year-old industrial design major named Veronika Scott has invented a coat that converts into a sleeping bag. Free Press staffer Bill Laitner wrote about it, and his story was picked up by the Chicago Tribune.

Depending on who you ask, there are between 18,000 and 32,000 people experiencing homelessness in Detroit, and Scott hopes her idea will keep some of them alive and relatively comfortable throughout the winter. She went broke creating prototype coats, bringing each version closer to the vision. (Industrial trivia: James Dyson has engineered 5,127 vacuum cleaners, each one slightly different, before settling on the production model.)

The “Element S(urvival) coat” is made from Tyvek HomeWrap insulation, lined with synthetic fleece donated by the Carhartt company. Imre Molnar, dean of the College for Creative Studies, endorsed Scott’s project. Journalist Laitner captured a quotation from this patron, who used to work for the outdoor gear company Patagonia. Molnar said,

This is extraordinary. If this garment is successful in Detroit, it’s going to work across the country and around the world for homeless people, to say nothing of the relief industry.

Another ally is Rev. Faith Fowler of Cass Community Social Services, which has the people and the space to start putting coats together. A local company is providing sewing machines. Clients of the Neighborhood Service Organization shelter, who over the past months have gotten to know the “coat lady,” will do the, so to speak, road testing.


Source: “SLO County Band uses music to help the homeless,” KSBY-TV, 11/14/10
Source: “H.U.G.S. for the Homeless,” St. Clement Church, 11/20/10
Source: “Surviving on the Streets,”
Source: “Thermal Underwear Drive,”
Source: “College student hopes her coat will save homeless people’s lives,”, 11/18/10
Image by mricon, used under its Creative Commons license.