Winnipeg's homeless receive coats that double as sleeping bags amid deep cold
With much of Canada in the midst of a deep freeze, Winnipeg’s homeless population is getting some much-needed protection from the elements in the form of coats that double as sleeping bags.
The Community Homeless Assistance Team in downtown Winnipeg, which connects the city’s homeless to permanent housing, offers addictions support and helps them find jobs, recently received 200 of the jackets as a donation and began distributing them to the city’s homeless.
“They love them,” Christy Loudon, the organization’s outreach co-ordinator, told CTV News Channel on Thursday. “Handing them out to people that were in need -- going out where they’re at -- they’re just humbled (and) grateful. They can’t say enough about them.”
A Detroit-based non-profit known as The Empowerment Plan produces and manufactures the jackets. They hire parents from local shelters to create the coats, giving them a full time job while helping to break the cycle of homelessness.
“No one needs to know how to sew when we hire them,” said The Empowerment Plan’s Founder and CEO Veronika Scott. “We do an intensive training and it takes about 90 days. During that same time, every single person we hire is moving out of the shelter and into their own housing.”
The jackets are mostly made out of water-resistant fabric donated by the clothing company Carhartt and repurposed automotive insulation from General Motors. They can be transformed into a sleeping bag or an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use.
Scott came up with the idea as part of a college project but added it comes out of some of her own personal experiences.
“Both of my parents struggled with unemployment, poverty and addiction my entire life,” she said. “What helped me break out of that cycle was my own family.”
Since 2012, the organization has employed more than 60 homeless individuals, while creating more than 30,000 coats and distributing them to people in the U.S., Canada and 16 other countries.
The organization is largely funded through private donors, other charitable organizations and corporate sponsorships.
The total number of homeless people in Winnipeg is difficult to tabulate, but the 2018 Winnipeg Street Census interviewed 1,519 homeless individuals over a 24-hour period and believes there are plenty more. The census did not interview people under the age of 16 or people who could not consent to an interview. It also estimates another 3,000 people in Winnipeg are staying with friends or family, but do not long-term housing.