Red Cross: Give goods, thanks to homeless vets

Sean Philip Cotter

The local Red Cross chapter is looking for donations to help out homeless veterans around the area, and even if you can't afford to donate, you can contribute a thank-you note.

The organization plans to hand out 150 backpacks full of various "care items" to homeless veterans around central Pennsylvania at the end of the month, said Kathy Doran, the armed forces program manager at the local Red Cross.

In particular, they need personal first-aid kits, rain ponchos and flashlights, Doran said.

The group is also looking for donations of fleece lap blankets, batteries for flashlights, pocket mirrors, personal sewing kits, nail clippers, decks of cards, notepads, hydrocortisone cream, adhesive bandages, 17-Inch backpacks and shaving cream.

Any Yorkers wishing to donate should bring the items to the Red Cross building at 724 S. George St. in York City.

The Red Cross also needs thank-you notes to the veterans that'll be included in the backpacks. The group will put a note from the organization into each one, and it will also add notes from any community members who write them, Doran said.

That way, "everybody can contribute," she said. And they do — "Our community is really, really generous."

The group will be collecting these items until the end of the month — Monday, Feb. 29 — at which point plans will be made to give the backpacks out around the area. The Red Cross will coordinate with places such as the York Rescue Mission to give out the bags, Doran said.

Kelly Blechertas, a program coordinator for the York County Planning Commission, deals with much of the data on homeless people in York County, including the yearly or bi-yearly "point-in-time" count, which is conducted early in the year at the behest of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The county did this year's tally last week, and, as of Tuesday, didn't have the final data from it yet, Blechertas said.

Busy schedules over the holidays led to a sharp drop in donations of blood and platelets, according to the American Red Cross.

She did provide the data from the previous year's count. In York County in 2015, of the 475 "sheltered" homeless — those who spent the night of the count in shelters or temporary housing, for example — 34 were veterans. Additionally, veterans that year comprised five of the 50 "unsheltered" homeless, a term meaning people who spent previous night out in a "place not fit for habitation," such as an abandoned building, a car or just out in the open.

This one-time-per-year data isn't a complete count, partly because the homeless population is always in flux, with people bouncing in and out of it. It also doesn't include people with no fixed address who go from couch to couch of family members and friends.

York County counts its homeless

"York is one of the busier counties we serve," said  Bill Reed, the director of veterans services for the Harrisburg YMCA.

Homelessness is higher among veterans than for the general population, he said.

Reed, who works regularly with veterans and veterans services in York County, said that gap's narrowed in the decade since he started working with veterans, but it still exists.

"There’s just been a lot of resources at specifically removing veterans from homeless status," he said, and they've been working, which Reed, a veteran himself, said is gratifying.

As for the backpacks the Red Cross is giving out, there is, of course, the practical component to the items in the bags, but there's also a deeper element to it, Reed said.

"What it also does is connects that homeless person back to the community," he said. "It shows you there’s people here who know you’re there."

— Reach Sean Cotter