Columbia activists join international movement in helping the homeless
COLUMBIA – Columbia activists are joining a global coalition working to provide homeless people with items they need to stay warm this winter.
Operation Safe Winter – CoMo, which formed in October, collects items like coats and sleeping bags and distributes those who need them most.
The mid-Missouri coalition is affiliated with the activist group Anonymous, which launched Operation Safe Winter in 2013.
The local organizer said she has done this type of work herself in years past but decided to make it bigger this year than what she could accomplish by herself.
“We wanted to try to change perceptions of who homeless people are,” said Slyvia, who declined to give her last name.
One of the volunteers with the Columbia group is Michael Rubio, who considers himself homeless.
He said he returned to Columbia after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017.
Rubio now helps volunteers reach other homeless people.
“They had asked me if I could help them get in and out of places to where people really don’t want to be seen or found,” Rubio said. “I can get in and out of there because I know these people.”
Rubio said he tries to volunteer as much as possible and will do whatever he can to make sure everyone’s needs are met.
“If I don’t have it, I’ll get it to them the next day or I’ll go out and try to find it as soon as possible,” he said.
Sylvia said the group’s work is “mutual aid.”
“We are not a charity project,” she said.
The Operation Safe Winter – CoMo coalition isn’t the only group helping the homeless this season.
The Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club is delivering hot meals to homeless people three mornings per week.
Dirk Burhans, who in November started feeding people out of the back of his car, said supporters and cooks provide the food.
“Sometimes they’ll go with me. Sometimes members of our homeless community will go with me and help serve,” he said.
Burhans said he’ll also offer items such as gloves, socks and hand warmers to people who need them.
“We have certain spots in the woods where we visit folks, spots on the streets, certain areas where our folks are,” he said. “We know where a lot of our folks are, and then sometimes we just run into people on the street, folks on the corner.”
Burhans said his favorite part is getting to know the people he and others help.
“Life is hard, but there’s a place for compassion. These are very compassionate folks,” he said. “They really care about each other.”