In recent years, Debra Yencer has noticed an uptick of visible homeless in the Crossroads.

Driving home from errands or volunteer work in Victoria, Yencer’s heart has grown heavy for those she saw lying around without beds to sleep in at night, finding shelter and shut-eye wherever one’s daily trek finalized.

Knowing one of her greatest gifts was the ability to wield a mighty crochet needle, Yencer worked together with her Parkway Church Knit Happens group to mobilize an effort providing rest to the restless.

Through massive donations of thousands of ordinary plastic shopping bags, the Knit Happens ladies have been cutting strips and crocheting hundreds of bags together to form portable and comfortable sleeping mats for area homeless.

“We want to make as many as we can and get more people involved,” Yencer, 65, said. “People can even do these at home if they don’t want to come to our group.”

The 40-inch wide mats take about 600 plastic bags to create one sleeping mat, which is rollable, portable and able to withstand the weather.

“They’re also helping to reduce the amount of plastic bags that end up in the landfill,” Yencer said.

With about 10 ladies who meet weekly to crochet the mats, Yencer said they’re hoping to collect plastic bag donations from the community and start distributing the mats in the fall.

“We want to hand these out as soon as possible,” she said, mentioning they’ve completed many already. “I’m hoping by getting people involved in this project, people will realize the homeless really need help and we can all do something, no matter how small.”

Following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the need for shelter and assistance in Victoria and throughout South Texas spiked.

Dolly Stokes, Victoria County United Way executive director, said her organization assisted more than 400 families with everything from providing clothing to assisting with home rebuilds.

Many were without homes after the storm, she said, either because the dwellings became uninhabitable or those who were already without permanent residence were forced to relocate.

“Now there are more apartments that have come online, but they’re available for those who can pay the rent and don’t serve the economically disadvantaged or homeless population in the city,” Stokes said. “There is a gap of long-term low-income housing and there are organizations that can help, but we can always use more.”

Even with temporary and long-term housing options, some people will elect to remain on the streets, Stokes said.

“They simply may not be ready to stay in a structured environment,” Stokes said, mentioning the effectiveness of the Day Center, which is open a couple of days a week and provides opportunities for homeless men and women to take a shower, get a meal and change their clothes.

That’s where the Knit Happens mats may come into play.

“I simply can’t say whether they will use the mats,” Stokes said. “But I suspect they will have some need for them.”

For Yencer and her Knit Happens crocheting partners, the mats are a passion project. Those who want to volunteer are welcome to attend, even if they don’t know how to crochet.

“I will teach anyone who comes,” she said. “And if they want to learn how to do it and then take the project home, that’s OK, too.”

The group of women wants to know if there will be those who sleep outside, at least they will have a softer place to lay their head at night.

“My goal in this is not to evangelize. That’s between them and God. I just want them to be comfortable and know someone cares for them,” Yencer said.

Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi writes about religion and faith for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at jenniferpreyss.com, or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss.

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Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi is an award-winning faith writer and columnist.

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