Pentagon restores its blankets-for-homeless program Senate had eliminated $3.5 million annual outlay

December 25, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Just in time for Christmas, the U.S. Department of Defense has reinstated its program providing blankets for the homeless.

"It got the green light," Frank Johnson, director of corporate communications at Philadelphia's Defense Supply Center, said yesterday.

The news of the decision was greeted with relief by advocates for the homeless, who were facing this winter without the homely but extremely durable blankets they had come to count on.

"If you have them, you give them out," said Mary Hendrickson, executive director of the Homeless Coalition in Fayetteville, N.C.

She, like other advocates, had been forced to seek alternative sources for blankets since the free supply of military blankets was cut off.

During the program's first decade, more than 4 million blankets were distributed to more than 500 homeless shelters around the country.

But then, in fiscal year 1997, the Senate Armed Services Committee decided that supporting homeless shelters was "outside" the military's "primary mission."

The committee said the $3.5 million annual cost diverted needed money from weapons.

The cut was particularly bitter news to groups representing homeless veterans. About one-third of the 760,000 people who are homeless in America on any given night are said to be veterans.

There were enough stockpiled blankets to see many homeless programs through last winter. But this year the blankets ran out.

As many homeless shelters scrambled for new supplies, their advocates pressed the case for the blankets with the Clinton administration.

Money to restart the program, $3.1 million, was approved late Wednesday, said Johnson.

Maria Foscarinis, director of the Washington-based National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, praised the move.

In a reference to the Pentagon's $700-million-a-day budget, she said the cost of the blankets was mere "decimal dust a barely felt expense while helping and even saving the lives of homeless individuals across the country."

Organizations interested in obtaining blankets for homeless support programs should address official correspondence (on organization stationery) to Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, 2800 S. 20th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19145. The contact person is Renee Martin, 215-737-2497.

Pub Date: 12/25/98

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