This winter, the homeless of Citrus County should at least have a blanket to warm them on the nights they find no other shelter from the cold.
That's the vision the Hunger and Homeless Coalition of Citrus County has in mind for its first blanket drive scheduled for Nov. 15-22. Members hope to collect about 400 blankets from the community to stock police stations and food banks for the chillier months ahead.
The effort is one of several planned for the local observance of National Homeless Awareness Week, the first event organized by the newly formed homeless coalition. It's also the latest segment in an ongoing effort this year by advocates to bring more understanding about the lives homeless people lead in Citrus County.
"We just want to bring awareness to Citrus County that there is a homeless problem there," said coalition vice president Sonia Tribble. "A lot of people are in total disbelief that there is any homelessness in Citrus County."
The week will kick off Nov. 15 with a "Night of Reality" for area youth ages 13 and older. Teenagers are invited to First Assembly of God church in Inverness for a spaghetti dinner, music, drama and a discussion with local homeless youth.
Then, the teens will spend the night on the church grounds in cardboard boxes to get a feel for what life is like on the streets. Those interested in participating should call Tribble at 726-9073 by Nov. 7.
On Nov. 18, the community is invited to a "Faces of the Homeless" panel at First Assembly of God. Families of homeless individuals and some people who are currently homeless will sit on the panel along with area shelter directors to discuss their experiences. Tom Pierce, director for the state office on homelessness in Tallahassee, also will participate in the forum.
Admission is one blanket or can of food.
Organizers hope seeing the faces of those who are homeless will help spur the community into action, said coalition president John Young. In Citrus, there are an estimated 450 homeless individuals on any given day, according to figures from the state.
"Talk to them, find out what they're all about," he said Monday.
Blankets will be collected the entire week. The goal is to disperse them throughout the county so those who come into contact with homeless individuals can hand them out as needed. Each police substation will get 10 blankets initially, Young said.
That way, "if (officers) can't place each of these people (in shelters) in the wintertime, they can at least bring them back a blanket," he said.
Numerous drop-off locations have been selected:
Inverness: St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, First Assembly of God, Family Dollar in the Highland Square Plaza and Connors Office Supply & Equipment Inc.
Floral City: Floral City Methodist Church and Express Lane Food Stores.
Crystal River: Regions Bank and Abundant Life Christian Fellowship.
Homosassa: True Vine Apostolic Church, Regions Bank and Curves.
Dunnellon: Tangles Family Hairstyles.
Beverly Hills: Curves and Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church.
Citrus Springs: North Oak Baptist Church.
_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkinssptimes.com.