HYANNIS − On Tuesday evening, the First Baptist Church of Hyannis was buzzing with energy and good feeling.
Volunteers, including members of the Barnstable High School hockey team, Rotary Club of Hyannis, and Barnstable High School military support club, were at work, weaving sheets of green and blue fleece together with knots to create a blanket.
“It makes you feel good,” said Steve Hayes, president of the Rotary Club of Hyannis. “It’s an easy, accessible way to provide an immediate need for people.”
On Feb. 22, 2022, 397 people on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were homeless, according to The Cape and Islands Regional Network on Homelessness, which conducts an annual point in time count of homeless adults and children in the region that excludes those living in motels or with family or friends. That total is 54 more people than were counted in 2021, and the highest number of homeless people counted in the past eight years.
The Rev. Derek White started the project 20 years ago in Chicago when he was the director of a homeless shelter there, with his youth group making blankets for the people served by the shelter.
Rev. Derek White arrived three years ago to work in Hyannis
Then, about three years ago, he came to work at the Federated Church of Hyannis. He decided to bring the program to the Cape, after noticing people struggling with homelessness knock on the church door seeking help.
Boosted with a $1,000 grant from the Rotary Club of Hyannis, the project has been able to expand to four other cities this year: Quincy, Boston, Brockton and Attleboro.
Each year, the Cape Cod Council of Churches organizes a service on winter solstice that remembers all the people who are homeless in Hyannis who died that year.
This year also saw an increase in the number of deaths of people who have been homeless on Cape Cod. In 2022, at least 76 people who have been in touch with the Cape’s homeless service providers at some point in their lives have died.
Because many homeless shelters open in the evening, people struggling with homelessness will huddle outside trying to stay warm until those spaces are available, White said. During the early days of the pandemic, he said spaces where they would have gone in the past, such as libraries, were closed.
“The idea of this project is to provide a layer of warmth to protect anybody who’s out in the cold,” said White.
The blankets also have a lot of versatility.
They can be turned into a sleeping bag by untying one side or tied to tree branches and turned into a tent. Some people stuff their clothes and other belongings inside to create a makeshift mattress.
White said he likes the program because it’s a “tangible way of actually connecting to the issue of homelessness.”
“It’s easy to write a check and just think you’re going to make the problem go away,” said White.
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