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Helping The Homeless, One Sleeping Bag At A Time

— With cold, drenching storms sweeping through San Diego, the misery index is soaring for the city’s homeless population. Now a local veterans group is doing what it can to make the cold, damp nights more bearable.

The homeless wake-up early, around 6 a.m., in downtown San Diego on the morning of Dec. 5, 2009.
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Above: The homeless wake-up early, around 6 a.m., in downtown San Diego on the morning of Dec. 5, 2009.

A sleeping bag, a stuff sack and a poncho. The items that would keep you warm and dry on a camping trip are the same things that make wet winter nights easier for San Diego’s homeless. Gil Field is with San Diego Veterans for Peace. His group has begun an effort to get those items to homeless people around the city.

“We went out of our way to make sure that everyone who got a bag and a poncho and a stuff sack was truly in need. And they were not hard to find,” Field said.

He said the project has been a success so far, even if it has only reached a handful of people. “We gave out 100 bags last week and it didn’t make a drop in the bucket. At the same time it sure made a difference in people’s lives.”

The effort is also impacting the volunteers who drive around at night and hand out the bags. Maurice Martin is one and he was once homeless himself. In an e-mail to other volunteers he described an experience he had one night:

“…we then went to 16th Street, where we found families, with young children living outside. We passed out the last bag and said to the people we would return with toys for the kids. We passed out all we had and left feeling we wanted to do more.....but feeling we had made a difference…”

In another e-mail, volunteer David Patterson said he knows the Veterans for Peace project won’t solve the problem of homelessness, but does afford some relief.

“What we offer, a sleeping bag and a poncho, won’t provide them the means to come over to the good life. But at least we can help them in the short term.”

Field wrote about some of the people who received his group’s supplies.

“Three relatively young ladies with no sleeping gear sitting/laying on the sidewalk near the Sempra Building happily accepted bags and ponchos and were thrilled. Two older men about to bed down on flattened cardboard boxes (and not much else) across the street from the Veterans Tent .... two bags went to them.”

The group is hoping to hand out more sleeping bags. The original goal was to raise $3,000 toward the effort. That goal has been met, but donations to buy more supplies continue to come in. Field said his group will keep handing out sleeping bags and ponchos as long they’ve got the money to do it.

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