According to estimates from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 1.5 million people in the U.S are homeless. This number includes nearly 48,000 veterans, many of whom suffer from serious mental illness and other chronic conditions.
Although homeless rates have declined in recent years, stamping it out completely may take a very long time. But that hasn’t stopped Judy Yuill, 77, a resident of American House Cedarlake in Plainfield, Illinois. Judy has been doing her part in helping to support those experiencing homelessness in nearby towns.
Judy is especially compassionate towards the homeless. In years’ past, she worked with several organizations to help those in need find adequate housing and employment. “People don’t want to be homeless” she explained. “Sometimes, they’re victims of circumstance.”
With the help of some friends and neighbors in her community, she’s partnered with New Life for Old Bags (NLOB) to create sleeping mats. The mats are made from “plarn”, strips of recycled plastic bags, like those found in the grocery store, and then crocheted to create a reusable, washable mat. When Judy started this project after moving to American House Cedarlake in 2014, she had a goal in mind – 100 mats. She’s almost met her mark. To date, Judy has donated 96 to NLOB.
“It takes about 800 bags to make one mat,” Judy said. Realizing she’d need some support, Judy began asking neighbors to donate their bags. Now, three years later, the project has really taken off!
Crocheting the mats can be both burdensome and intimidating; especially for anyone challenged by dexterity issues. Admittedly, Judy says she’s found it difficult to find volunteers to help with the NLOB project. Each mat takes about two weeks to complete, a commitment that doesn’t appeal to everyone.
“There were a lot more people (making mats); but not anymore, she said. “And they’re (the mats) in demand.”
Although recruitment for the project was a little slow, Judy had a few companions who also wanted to give back. In addition to her friends and neighbors who donate bags, her friends, Jean, Sue and Dolores, make the plarn. Soon, she’s hoping to teach an understudy how to crochet the bags into mats.
In the neighboring town of Joliet, homelessness is estimated in the thousands. “There’s a waiting list for the mats”, Judy said. Although the recycled mats aren’t as comfortable as a mattress, they are functional, easily rolled and carried from one place to the next, and create an insulated barrier between its owner and the cold, hard ground in winter.
Judy hopes she and her friends can inspire others to join them in making mats for those in need. The task can be somewhat tedious, but she encourages seniors, and anyone interested in helping the homeless, to grab a group of friends, check out a tutorial on how to create the mats, and get busy!
“I think we’re here for a reason,” Judy said. “We need to be good to people.”