Seniors knit hats, blankets for homeless

Knitty Gritty Heroes hope to help homeless neighbors keep warm

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



Judy Smith thinks it’s sad seeing the negativity toward homeless people, especially considering how easy it is to become homeless. As the 69-year-old entered the community room at Vista Court, she set down a hat she’d recently finished knitting.

That brought the tally of knitted hats for the homeless to 510.

A group of women calling themselves Knitty Gritty Heroes are knitting hats and making blankets for homeless people. They all live at Vista Court Apartments, an income-restricted complex for people who are 62 and older in downtown Vancouver. Seniors living on fixed incomes can have trouble dealing with Vancouver’s rising rents. Some Vista Court residents have been homeless, or would be homeless without their rental subsidy. There is a 369-person waiting list to live there, and residents are selected via a lottery.

So, the Knitty Gritty Heroes feel lucky to live in Vista Court.

Linda Roberts, 78, was on the waiting list for four years before she got an apartment. Roberts hadn’t knitted for about 20 years, but decided to get back into it when she retired last year from the Human Services Council. She made her great grandchildren three hats each and then wondered, “Now what am I going to do?”

With the Knitty Gritty Heroes, she said, “I can knit all I want and give them all away.”

So far, the group has given hats and blankets to Lincoln Place, Open House Ministries, Share and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The group started knitting hats in May and has surpassed its goal of 500 hats before Christmas. Everyone learned to loom knit; it’s the fastest way to make a hat because you don’t have to count stitches, Roberts said.

“We just sort of started by accident,” she said while working on the brim of a hat.

Property Manager Valerie McFadden had seen the viral story of a 92-year-old Michigan man who knitted hats for the homeless while in hospice. He, too, used a knitting loom to make the hats.

She told a couple of the residents about the story. “They just sort of said ‘If that man can do it, we can do it,'” McFadden said. “I’m just really proud of them.”

She put up fliers in the building advertising the knitting group, but after that the residents took the reins. It started with a handful of women, but has grown to about a dozen or so that meet every Tuesday morning. Completed hats are logged, put into plastic bags and then boxed to be delivered to the agencies.

“Everybody deserves to have something — a blanket, a hat, whatever,” said Charlotte Mayham. She gets emotional talking about how some people think it’s futile making a nice hat for someone who’s homeless: “There’s so much negativity against the homeless.”

Mayham is among the youngest in the group. The oldest knitter is Marge Kleen, 88.

“I don’t feel that old,” quipped Kleen, while she loom knitted a hat. “I usually try to do one a day, or one an evening.”

Mayham said she got some yarn skeins from Goodwill. Also, Key Property Services brought in three large bags full of yarn. McFadden said they’ve “had yarn drop in from every direction.” There’s enough to make another 500 hats.

The group applied for a “difference maker” grant from Royal Neighbors of America, a life insurance company, and got $200. Roberts said they’ll use that money to buy blanket kits, which can be expensive; she stacks Joann Fabrics’ coupons to make them more affordable.

Roberts said she once heard homelessness described as “the worst man-made crisis of the century.” She agrees.

“Most people think of an alcoholic, a derelict, but there are families — a huge number of families — who are homeless,” Roberts said.

It’s easy to get into a downward spiral if you’re behind on rent and get evicted, she said.

Being situated downtown at Daniels Street and Mill Plain Boulevard, the residents at Vista Court see homelessness firsthand. St. Paul Lutheran Church, which houses homeless men overnight during winter, is down the street.

Patti Kistler, 74, said she doesn’t like to sit still, and that the knitting project “keeps us young.” Some make hats at home and bring them to the group on Tuesdays. Others like to come and socialize.

There was plenty of laughter and chatter as the women sat around tables on Tuesday, knitting hats.

“We just work together as a team and it’s really great,” Mayham said.

Next year’s goal is 750 hats.