ANN ARBOR – The coronavirus pandemic has brought challenges to everyone’s day-to-day life, but the homeless population has been disproportionately affected by restaurant and library closures, limited beds to curb the spread of COVID-19 and limited means to protect themselves from the virus.
Ariah Schugat recently came to the Ann Arbor area and experienced these challenges. She arrived to the city homeless, injured and with less than $300 to her name.
What she found was that acts of human kindness proved to be the turning point in successfully getting off the streets. During her brief experience with homelessness, she realized how much cellphones are the lifeblood of homeless individuals.
A phone is their only connection to the world, and with agencies calling with tips of job and housing opportunities and court hearings taking place virtually, she said one missed call can set an individual back significantly.
One thing that helped her while she was homeless was a portable battery pack.
With restaurants, cafes and the Ann Arbor District Libraries closed, the pack helped keep her phone charged and, in turn, connected with those who could help.
Once she got off the streets, she decided to give back to those in need by creating custom phone charging kits and handing them out daily.
She and her partner Michelle connected with a local benefactor to help fund the first round of kits. With an initial $600 donation, they were able to make 30 kits, which they distributed at downtown’s Liberty Plaza, the Delonis Center, the Breakfast at St. Andrew’s and at rotating warming centers.
“One of the biggest questions we get pretty often is: ‘How much does it cost?’” said Schugat, who leaves the house at 7:15 a.m. on days she isn’t working to hand out the kits for free.
The pair launched a GoFundMe, which raised $3,000 in two weeks, and currently there are 150 kits, or Kyndness Packs, out in the community.
The kits consist of:
- 1 pre-charged portable battery pack
- 1 USB wall charger/block
- 1 multi-end USB charging cable
- 10 individually wrapped alcohol wipes for use by all coming in contact with the bags
During kit drop offs, Schugat and her partner sometimes collect the portable battery packs, recharge them overnight and then hand them back out for circulation the next morning.
As time goes on, the pair hope to incorporate more gear into the kits in response to ongoing need, including personal reflective gear after two homeless individuals were recently struck and killed by cars in Ann Arbor in the same week.
When asked why she started the project, Schugat said she wanted to spread kindness, since it is ultimately what got her off the streets.
“There’s really no reason to not help people,” she said. “It’s the easiest thing in the world. I think being kind to each other is a gift.”
Staff at the Delonis Center are now supporting the phone kit effort and are trying to help the pair raise funds to continue purchasing supplies.
“We are seeing new faces every day, unfortunately,” said Schugat. “The need is far greater than just the phone kits. (But the) biggest point of this is to keep people in touch with agencies or relatives to get them off the streets.”
She said having a charged phone can also help some individuals avoid run-ins with law enforcement.
“Another part of this project is these people are desperate, and if they have to trespass to get their phone charged, they’re going to be on the radar of the police,” said Schugat. “Once they’re out of that, they are homeless with a dead phone reporting to a probation officer. Every time they come out (of jail), they’re two steps further back.”
With plans to expand the project, Schugat said more funding is needed.
To learn more about the Kyndness Packs or to make a donation, click here.