The Homeless Memorial Blanket Project and the Operations at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation will place hand-knitted blankets on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 20 to represent the many homeless families in the country. (Photo by Christopher Ryan on Unsplash)

By Reginald Williams,
Special to the AFRO

The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that more than a half million persons who persistently experience homelessness in America. According to the Washington, D.C.-based organization, about 70 percent are single individuals. The remaining 100,000 are dominated by families with children. But in 2019, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that there were 1.6 million students unstably housed. 

Pat LaMarche, a longtime advocate for people experiencing homelessness, estimates the number of people without adequate housing to be more substantial. 

“I think there are 10 to 12 million people experiencing homelessness in the United States—the official numbers are one-half million,” explained LaMarche. “There is this enormous number of people flipping burgers, waiting on you, taking your order, driving an Uber. They’re not just driving Uber—they’re living in it.” 

Homelessness, defined as being without an adequate residence, comes with a myriad of social problems, including limited access to food, finding a safe place to sleep, and being confronted by atmospheric conditions like frigid weather. 

LaMarche is amplifying the awareness of the devastation of homelessness and addressing it with the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project. LaMarche, the project’s organizer, estimates that between 500 and 1,000 blankets—handmade quilted blankets stitched by strangers for strangers –will be donated. 

“I’ve always tried to take another bite at the apple in finding ways to make people give a damn or helping them understand that there is something they can do,” said LaMarche. 

On Dec. 21 (the longest night of the year), the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project, in conjunction with Operations at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, will place those blankets, each representing families, on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, arguably the most influential building in the world. 

“Our congregation is excited to partner with the #MemorialBlanket Project,” said Jarrod Jabre, director of operations at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. “By faith in Christ, we are bold to proclaim that ‘All are Welcome.’ Providing space and availability for the artisans who are creating blankets to those without homes is a perfect fit for us.” 

The day after the event is staged, Jabre said, the organizers will begin distributing blankets to individuals and families in need. 

Organizers invite blanket makers to drop off their creations at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capitol Street, NE in Washington, D.C. They can do so Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Dec. 20. The church will store the blankets until the event.

The blanket’s dimensions, 45″ x 80″ and 60″ x 80,” vary in fabrics, fibers, and colors. 

“Most of the blankets are family-sized, representing the fact that there are families who are homeless,” explained LaMarche. 

The project has participants in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Volunteers in each state are being asked to make at least 100 blankets, providing ten for the Capitol lawn display and donating another 90 or more to outreach programs in their area. 

The birth of the blanket project occurred in 2021 after LaMarche spoke at graduation for people in poverty. A woman with some intellectually-different abilities approached LaMarche, author of Left Out in America: The State of Homeless in the United States, sharing her desire to help with homelessness. “I would really like to crochet all day, but no one would pay me to do that.” LaMarche responded, “We can’t pay you to do it, but we can surely give you a purpose to do it.” 

Responding to the woman’s call, LaMarche reached out to her network and said, “I want to put blankets down on the Town Square. I want them to represent people living in homelessness. And I want to do it on the longest night of the year [Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice], for Homeless Memorial Night. For that inaugural year, 219 strangers donated blankets.”Reginald Williams is the author of “A Marginalized Voice: Devalued, Dismissed, Disenfranchised & Demonized.” Please email bookreggie@reginaldwilliams.org or visit amarginalizedvoice.com for more information.

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Reginald Williams

Special to the AFRO