After his faith-based book discussion group turned their attention to the problem of racial inequality, and meeting a member of his church that had experienced homelessness in the past, retired Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Valley College basketball coach, Dick Shilts, was determined to help Kalamazoo's homeless population. It was through that meeting with the church member that Shilts learned about the Empowerment Plan in Detroit, an organization that creates winter coats that can be turned in to sleeping bags.

Not only does Empowerment Plan exclusively employ people experiencing homelessness to produce the produce, the employee's 40 hour work week is split nearly 50-50 between the factory floor and the classroom, where they can learn basic skills, get health education, learn financial literacy, and so much more. It is because of this that in their eight years active, quote:

...every single person has moved out of the shelter within the first 4-6 weeks of working with us and no one has returned to homelessness once we’ve hired them.

The coat is rather ingenious. The average looking mid-thigh parka has a detachable sleeve on the inside back that can be folded down and slipped over the legs and feet to avoid exposure to the elements. The coat can also be rolled up and secured with Velcro straps so it can be carried easily without having to be warn on warmer days. If Shilts was looking for a way to help, this was it. He set out to raise enough money to donate 10 coats to our area homeless.

But why stop at 10? According to an article from MLive, he has helped get 85 coats on the backs (and legs) of people in need. After personally handing the coats to residents of our tent cities, its ever more obvious the need is growing. And the help is so appreciated. If you would like to help Coach Dick Shilts in his effort to bring more coats to Kalamazoo, and thereby help a person experiencing homelessness have a chance to get back on their feet, contact the Coach by emailing dcshilts@hotmail.com. Even if you don't have the $131 for a coat, if we all give a little, we'll have a lot.

This isn't the first time Michiganders have pooled efforts to help the homeless during cold winter months. Back in 2016, teens in Three Rivers were looking for donations of plastic grocery bags to make thick, waterproof sleeping mats. Each mat requires between 500 and 700 grocery bags, so the process can be long and laborious depending on how many (and how often) donations come in.

 

 

There are so many ways you can help our homeless neighbors, from educating yourself on the causes of homelessness, to where to make donations, click here to learn more.

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