Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
PROVO — When a Provo police officer found a man struggling to sleep under an overpass on a bitterly cold night, he took action.
Sgt. Brian Taylor said at first he felt powerless to help because Provo doesn’t have an overnight shelter, but then he remembered a story he heard on the radio about a woman in Detroit who designed coats that unfold into full-sized sleeping bags to help homeless people.
He decided the coats, made by The Empowerment Plan, could be put to good use in Provo and launched a campaign on CrowdRise with a goal of $600 so he could buy six coats. However, within only 24 hours, people donated $1,025. He bought 10 coats and, so far, officers have given away two.
“When we give the coats away we don’t make these into police encounters,” he said. “It’s just somebody giving a coat to somebody who needs a warm sleeping system.”
Taylor, who has been working as a police officer in Provo for 10 years, credited residents inside and outside of the city for making the project possible. He said the generosity of those who wanted to help is what is most remarkable.
“This is not a solution to homelessness," he said. "It’s just a way for citizens to help other citizens in need, to help a vulnerable population.”
The coats were distributed to officers in the group Taylor supervises at night, with instructions to give them away to people who need them, without any conditions. He said he wasn’t sure how homeless people would receive the coats at first, but it has been a positive experience.
When we give the coats away we don't make these into police encounters. It's just somebody giving a coat to somebody who needs a warm sleeping system.
–Sgt. Brian Taylor
“When I gave the coat and showed how to open it up and turn it into a sleeping bag, the person that I dealt with was pretty excited,” he said. “He’s a homeless guy in Provo that the police know and deal with on a periodic basis and he was excited to have a warm sleep system that he could carry with him.”
He said one of the problems with homelessness is that, even if someone has a sleeping bag, it is hard to maintain during the day and avoid losing. The Empowerment Plan coats can eliminate some of that concern.
Another way The Empowerment Plan tries to help homeless people is by providing jobs. The coats are made by a team that includes single, homeless parents, according to The Empowerment Plan website. Anyone can donate online to sponsor coats.