It all started when Destiny Duerst recieved a life-sized Christmas stocking from her best friend.
"I didn't know where to put it or what to do with it," she said. "My first thought was, really, that we should fill it with clothes and stuff for the homeless."
Duerst, 19 and a Cottage Grove native, started a Facebook page to solicit donations for her project, "Help the homeless stay warm," and has so far collected nine bags of clothes, blankets and gloves as well as $120 in donations to purchase additional items.
According to the yearly point in time count conducted by Oregon Housing and Community Services as part of a nationwide effort to count homeless populations around the country, homeless stats are up six percent from 2015. In Lane County, 1,529 were identified as homeless; 164 were marked as veterans--the second-highest homeless veteran population in the state behind Multnomah—which includes Portland.
According to the data provided in the county, a larger percentage of the homeless population suffers from mental illness (14 percent) than addiction (12 percent). Of those with a mental illness or addiction, 68 percent were unsheltered, rather than considered sheltered homeless meaning they sought lodging in places HUD defines as not traditional living quarters. Individuals living in cars, on the street, in parks and abandoned buildings are considered to be unsheltered. To be considered sheltered, individuals must be seeking lodging in emergency shelters, transitional shelters or otherwise being housed in lodgings meant for people to live in.
By mid-January, Duerst says she's going to walk the streets of Cottage Grove, allowing homeless individuals to choose their clothing.
An online fundraising effort with a goal of $500 has raised $80 as of Friday, Dec. 28 and Duerst plans to increase fundraising efforts in January.
"We're having a spaghetti feed," she said. "It's at the Elk's Lodge on Jan. 13 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It's a $5 donation and anyone under five-years-old will be $2."
All the funds raised will go towards purchasing more blankets and coats as temperatures continue to drop.
Local Beds for Freezing Nights continues to be activated when the temperature drops below freezing but for nights that it hovers in the high 30s, Duerst hopes to provide warmth for those left outside.