JailBreakPGH is helping people host a Blanket Drive for the unaccomodated in Pittsburgh – Level Park Globe
When 20-year-old Faith McClendon heard the news that Texans were frozen in their homes during a winter storm in late February 2021, she was inspired to begin her own form of relief in Pittsburgh.
“I worked with Food Not Bombs Pittsburgh on Valentine’s Day. They do pop-up shops and hand out sweaters, coats, hot hands and other necessities, ”said McClendon. “I was out there from noon to 5 pm and it was freezing … I couldn’t imagine having to wait the night in this weather.”
The winter storm that developed off the coast of the Pacific Northwest on February 13, 2021, passed through the United States, particularly affecting residents of Texas and other southern states, as their infrastructure is not used to cold and snowy weather conditions. Power outages left people freezing in their own homes, food shortages in grocery stores and grocery banks, pipes frozen and bursting, and water treatment systems failing. According to the New York Times, 58 people died as a result of the storm in the affected areas from Texas to Ohio.
“Seeing people freeze to death really bothers me,” McClendon said. “So, I said to myself, let me do what I can and see who wants to help, and I’ll give what I can give.”
Beginning February 19, 2021, McClendon began collecting gently used blankets, sleeping bags, sweaters, socks, and other warm items that were to be distributed to unhodged people in Pittsburgh. JailbreakPGH, an abolitionist prison support collective, helped McClendon get the word out for their ride through an Instagram post. Under the street name Imani Elombe, McClendon has received over 20 items and each person who donated has given more than one item.
Founded in Fall 2019, Jailbreak is a self-organized group of community members who, according to their website, support people inside or outside the Allegheny County Jail for free. After learning about the organization from a few friends who worked with them and attended an event on New Year’s Eve in 2021, McClendon wants to get as involved as possible.
Another organization helping the unhodged in Pittsburgh is Action Housing, an organization founded to empower individuals to build safer and more self-sufficient lives by providing affordable housing. The organization hired Aubrey Plesh, founder of the PSBG team, to operate a low-barrier winter home in McKeesport from November 18, 2020. Low barrier shelters are shelters that do not require background checks, proof of identity, or mandatory attendance. Plesh emphasizes the importance of unprotected people keeping warm items in their possession.
“Well, we don’t want these people to die,” said Plesh. “There are freezing nights in Pittsburgh’s climate and we’ve seen them freeze to death on our streets.”
The Robert Morris University student plans to distribute the blankets and other donated items to various homeless shelters in the Pittsburgh area during the week of March 15th. She doesn’t have a numerical goal, but she wants to spend as many items as possible.
“The best blankets are those that are thick and keep people warm,” said McClendon. “Used gently and clean too. But if that is not possible, I will wash them myself. I will do what I can. “