A week before the first snowfall of the season, Chantelle Casey knew she wanted to do something for those with nowhere to call home.
“I was just telling my husband we needed to do something for the homeless, and I just wanted to do a blanket drive,” she said. “It just kind of snowballed from there. We’ve been going [to downtown Atlanta] every single week for eight weeks.”
Since then, Forsyth County residents Chantelle Casey and her husband, Steve Casey, have been visiting the city to help with the needs of the homeless population by bringing coats, blankets, hats and anything else to keep them warm.
On their first trip, the Caseys had trouble finding homeless people to give to before finally happening upon people near Ellis Street.
“We just went up to folks and said, ‘hey, could you use a blanket?’” Steve Casey said. “And they said, ‘absolutely, we could use a blanket.’”
Along with the coats and blankets, some had more unique requests.
“One of the guys had shoes on that were too small, and they were dress shoes. There was snow on the ground, and it was freezing,” Chantelle Casey said, later adding. “One guy said, ‘Can you get me a Snickers bar? That’s all he asked for, and he said, ‘my sugar’s low.’ He’s diabetic.”
This week, the family will be collecting items at The Loft Hair Salon at 4235 Browns Bridge Road, where Chantelle Casey works.
While on Ellis Street, the Caseys also connected with Safehouse Outreach, a non-profit that provides a place to get warm once the temperature drops below 40 degrees, as well as meals, job training, health checks and other services to meet needs for the homeless.
“[The Caseys are] extremely passionate about helping the least among us and are very humble in terms of trying to educate themselves about the population of the issue,” said Yvonne Baxter, development director with Safehouse Outreach.
Since the first trip, the couple now also brings items such as tarps, ponchos and luggage, since some homeless shelters will not allow homeless people in with plastic bags.
Rather than just donating, the couple wanted to learn the struggles of what the community was facing.
“We just asked them their story, because I think so many people have such a misconception about the homeless, and they think they’re out there because they’re drug addicts or have some kind of serious mental illness,” Chantelle Casey said. “Not that there aren’t those cases — because there are — but most of them [are down on their luck].”
To help get the word out, Chantelle Casey did an impromptu interview with a man living on the streets named Warren Simpson. The video has garnered thousands of views in just a few weeks.
“He took us and showed us where he lived,” she said. “He said, ‘we’re human. We’re not monsters,’ and he became the face of homelessness.”
Simpson said he had been homeless for about a year and he and the Caseys had become friends through their outreach and talk several times a week.
“God sent them my way because they came and brought me some blankets, and we started talking and stuff,” Simpson said. “We’ve been good friends ever since because they were on the same page I was on. I started talking about how it is out here. You know, different people have different concepts of people when they’re homeless.”
For Simpson, getting his story out could have a positive, personal impact.
“Somebody saw the video that worked for Social Security, [and they] called Safehouse Outreach, got in touch with the people who are in charge of his case and they’re upping his benefits,” Chantelle Casey said.
Locally, Chantelle Casey said Forsyth County residents have had a strong need to give.
“A lady brought five brand-new jackets today, a bag full of brand-new hats, gloves [and] coats,” she said. “We’ve had people bring huge comforters and blankets. It’s just been amazing. Literally, every day I’m coming home with my car filled with bags of stuff the community has brought to me.”
One of their neighbors, Katie Schmoeckel, said it is important for the local community to realize the need is close to home.
“I think it’s good,” she said. “Our neighborhood, I feel like we should be involved a lot more… I think we’re kind of sheltered to a lot of that stuff up here, honestly, and so making it more real [and it is important] for the kids to realize that they’re so lucky to live here and to have everything that they have.”
The Caseys said those interested in giving can donate to Safehouse Outreach at SafehouseOutreach.org.