Sewing with love: Volunteers create winter clothing for Winnipeg's homeless

Laughter mixed with the hum of sewing machines at the West End Commons Saturday, where volunteers were "sewing their love" for the city's homeless population.

1JustCity is planning to sew 3,000 winter clothing items by Nov. 23

Laura Everett, 1JustCity's community capacity builder, organized the Sew Much Love event. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Laughter mixed with the hum of sewing machines at the West End Commons on Saturday, where volunteers were "sewing their love" for Winnipeg's homeless population. 

Camouflage patterns, animal prints and other discarded clothing items were repurposed at the "Sew Much Love" event, which aims to create a total of 3,000 tuques, neck warmers and mittens by Nov. 23.

"It's the difference between someone getting frostbite and losing their fingers. It's the difference between a dry walk home," said Laura Everett, community capacity builder at 1JustCity, which operates three different outreach centres across the city of Winnipeg and organized the event.

"And someone made this for you with love."

Volunteers are working to sew 3,000 winter clothing items to help ensure the city’s homeless population can stay warm during winter. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Some of the winter clothing will be distributed during the organization's Walk a Mile in My Shoes event — an educational walk which tries to give participants a snapshot of the lives of the city's homeless population.

"Our three locations see hundreds of people a day, and so we're constantly giving out stuff. There's never enough," said Everett.

At Saturday's sewing event, roughly a dozen volunteers worked alongside people experiencing homelessness who count on services from 1JustCity, which Everett believes is a unique opportunity.

"It really changes your perspective. It makes you thankful for things you have. It makes you have a different world view," she said.

Tessa Whitecloud, the executive director of 1JustCity, says events like this provide people with way to get involved.

"I think that a lot of people don't know what steps they can take to support people experiencing homelessness in our city … [so] taking direct action is really a way to get people to understand some of the steps that they can take."

Volunteers hard at work sewing winter clothing items for the city's homeless population at Saturday's event. (Travis Golby/CBC)

But even volunteer power is not always enough. This year, 1JustCity is in a precarious situation due to a lack of funding for its overnight warming centre, Just a Warm Sleep, which runs out of Augustine United Church.

End Homeless Winnipeg has said it doesn't have any funding left to provide, Whitecloud said, so the $7,000 needed to run the shelter each month will have to be raised from donations or grant money.

"This year, because we don't have funding yet for a staff person, we're looking at going back to that volunteer model, which means we'll only open on nights when it's below –10," said Whitecloud.

"It'll be difficult to say, 'Hey, yeah, the weather looks like we can't be open on the weekend,'" she said.

The change from being open daily during the winter to only opening on the coldest nights is something that worries Whitecloud.

"It's definitely hard to not be in a position where people who stayed with us maybe every single night can come routinely," she said.

Tessa Whitecloud said access to basic hand washing is something many people take for granted. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Last year, the overnight warming centre shelter was home to 25-30 people and their pets every night from the beginning of January until mid-March, which Whitecloud says shows there was a strong need.

"We're already getting messages this year about … 'when can I be there' [and] 'I need a space,' and it's really difficult to say 'not yet.'"

Whitecloud says if she could get the funding sooner, she could have the warming centre ready to be opened by Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, for anyone who'd like to help 1JustCity but couldn't attend Saturday's sewing event, Everett said sewn or knitted items can be dropped off at any of 1JustCity's locations — at Augustine United Church on River Avenue, Crossways in Common on Broadway, or St. Matthew's Anglican Church on Maryland — before Nov. 23.


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