By Amelia A. Pridemore
Lucia Hyde Robinson is a serious rock climber, but she says the fiercest of elements she and others like her endure is nothing compared to what a homeless person faces.
“The most hard-core are the ones who are living homeless, but for them, it’s not a recreational choice — it’s a way of life,” she said.
Robinson, a Charleston native and resident of Boulder, Colo., and Rachel Babkirk, a fellow rock climber from Fayetteville, are spearheading Down for the Down and Out (DFDO), a grassroots project that provides outdoor survival gear to the homeless, who Robinson says needs it most. DFDO is in its second year, but it has now been expanded to include Fayetteville, plus five other cities across the country.
A collection bin at Waterstone Outdoors in Fayetteville set up Dec. 15 is already full, Robinson said. The project runs through Jan. 15.
During fall 2006, Robinson said, she and Babkirk were on a climbing trip, and even though they were in Texas, the weather was extremely cold. Their camping gear and outdoor clothing kept them warm and comfortable. The two later went to the nearest town to buy coffee when they saw a homeless man in the same elements — with only a thin blanket to keep himself warm.
They realized people who enjoy outdoor activities like rock climbing, boating and camping regularly purchase new gear and have piles of old gear cramming their closets which could be put to use to help the homeless.
“If they had access to high-quality outdoor gear, it wouldn’t solve all their problems, but it would certainly make them more comfortable,” Robinson said.
Robinson said she and Babkirk then e-mailed several friends who are outdoor enthusiasts, and last year collected items at Waterstone Outdoors and a location in Asheville, N.C. Babkirk collected seven “jumbo garbage bags” full of gear in Fayetteville, and Robinson had to pack her Subaru station wagon three times in Asheville.
Donated items were distributed to aid organizations whose representatives noted DFDO was quite different from others they had seen, Robinson said. The organizations regularly received clothing donations, but hardly any donated camping gear the homeless need to survive on the streets.
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This year, DFDO was awarded a grant from Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, and the project was expanded to include Fayetteville, Boulder, Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Ariz., and Chattanooga, Tenn., Robinson said.
Not only could old outdoor gear cluttering closets be recycled, but the gear could be used to help people whose ranks are growing, Robinson said.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has estimated more than three million people in the United States — including 1.3 million children — are either intermittently or chronically homeless. Robinson said a large number of homeless people work, but their income is not enough to keep them from living in their cars, in shelters or on the streets. Because of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and foreclosures on the rise, more people may find themselves without roofs over their heads.
Donations collected in West Virginia will go to the Charleston YMCA and the YWCA’s Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women and Families in Charleston, Robinson said. Other southern West Virginia organizations that distribute clothing to the homeless are welcome to contact Robinson at email@example.com or Babkirk at firstname.lastname@example.org if they would be interested in receiving donated items, as well.
Waterstone Outdoors is located at 101 E. Wiseman Ave. in Fayetteville. Donations can also be mailed to Down for the Down and Out, 405 Hemingway Ave., Charleston, WV 25311. Another donation bin will be set up at the Charleston YMCA Jan. 2 through Feb. 1.