Features Magazine Volume 71, Issue 3

A Cold COVID-19 Winter & The Homeless Community

Written By: Riley Martin

Graphic By: Makena Lee-Carey

Some have been able to partake in returning to “normal” lives amidst the pandemic. However, certain communities — like the homeless community — are not so fortunate: for them COVID-19 is one of the main factors in their daily struggle. This challenge only heightens during the winter. 

Before COVID-19, the illness and deaths of homeless peoples were consistent throughout the seasons. With the tight restrictions on emergency shelters regarding capacity and notable distance between them and homeless camps, the unhoused community was left facing the dangers of the cold during the pandemic. As stated by the Climate Data Organization, Walnut Creek’s average daily temperatures during the winter months of December, January, and February are as follows: 47.9°F, 47.4°F and 49.2°F. With even lower minimal daily temperatures hovering around 41°F during these months, proponents of the unhoused community say that the importance of seasonally appropriate donations are more important now than ever.

Homeless shelters are doing what they can with recently loosened capacity restrictions in order to provide more unhoused people a shelter for these cold temperatures. Residents of the community can still help by donating. When I spoke to Leslie Gleason, executive director of the Trinity Center in Walnut Creek which serves as a nonresidential facility to serve both the homeless and people with lower incomes in Contra Costa County, she outlined some in-demand items during this time. She said, “Donations of seasonable, clean clothing like sweaters, jackets, and coats to organizations like Trinity Center help people living unsheltered navigate through the winter months when weather can be so unpredictable. They know that they can come here while we are open and select what they need to stay warm and dry.” 

Fortunately, the community stepped up in a big way in Gleason’s view, “Trinity Center has always counted on the generosity of the community to meet the urgent needs of those we serve, and never has this support [been] more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic. From hand-sanitizer to home-made masks in the early months, through timely donations of shoes, socks, underwear and warm clothes, the community has stepped up, and this means so much to us to know that our neighbors are thinking about our members with care and compassion, and taking action to keep them safe and warm!” 

One of the contributors of this support is Las Lomas senior Sandra Safein. Both her and her family have a philosophy regarding possessions, especially clothes as she noted, “…we never throw out anything we can use and if we don’t use it then we give it to our friends or donate it to either a shelter or a thrift store.” She goes on to say, “…it isn’t a matter of donating more during the winter months, but where the donations go is what varies. We try to give more to shelters during the winter months while during seasons like spring and summer we donate more to thrift stores.  Whenever any of us find something we do not use or wear any more, we place it in the designated bags in our garage until they are full enough to take to a shelter or thrift store.” Her family keeps to a consistent cycle of donating; typically making a trip  every month and a half-to-two months. 

Although Safein does not equate her experience to those without homes, she urged a personal note, “…my family has truly benefited from thrift stores and second-hand stores in the past and so I think we know what it means to people to get clothes that others won’t use for a reasonable price. We know that someone else can truly enjoy or feel good with clothes or items that we just throw in the back of our closets.” This mentality is the support and compassion of which Gleason spoke. 

It is important to note that Gleason also spoke about infrastructural donations. She said, “…donated items get right into the hands that need them, and limited storage means that we do not have ‘reserves’ on hand for emerging needs, so financial donations of any size are also important to keep our ‘infrastructure’ solid so we can effectively and immediately connect the generosity of the community with those facing challenges and help build pathways forward.” 

Winter months amidst a pandemic necessitate help from residents of the community in the form of  donations to supply shelters like our own Trinity Center, so they can get to and help those in need.