A bag of blessings

Chief Scott Harris and CSUPD officers are now carrying bags of basic necessities and blankets in their patrol cars to support their interactions with homeless people on campus.

Anyone on the Colorado State University campus can encounter an increasing number of homeless people, who gravitate toward the large number of buildings open to the public. Recently, the CSU Police Department teamed up with a high school student from Wray who put together bags of toiletries and other necessities, including a blanket, to give to those who are homeless for a school club project. Officers will distribute the bags to transients they encounter on campus.

The bags contain items such as lip balm, a rain poncho, tissues, wet wipes, trash bags, socks, a comb, bandages, personal hygiene items including soap and deodorant, and a few non-perishable snacks. The student’s idea behind giving these Blessing Bags is to provide items necessary for self-sufficiency to those who carry their possessions with them.

“Those who are homeless are part of the community we serve,” said Chief Scott Harris, who has been personally involved in helping those who are homeless, such as providing food, and volunteering at homeless centers, throughout his career. “Most of those we encounter are without the basic day-to-day essentials such as deodorant, toothpaste or a toothbrush. Providing some of those items can make for a better day and show people in that situation that they are recognized and not overlooked by our community due to their circumstance.”

Education and intervention

CSUPD Lt. Adam Smith estimates that university patrol officers interact with transient individuals about four to six times per week. Officers carry the bags and blankets in their patrol calls so they are always available. In addition, CSUPD educates transients about various laws and provides information about resources, including local shelters, that may be available to them. The university prohibits camping or sleeping outdoors on campus.

Alaina Akey is the Wray High School junior behind the Blessing Bags. Her goal is to help more than 100 homeless people with the bags and blankets before she graduates next spring, and to create a statewide outreach program.

In Wray, a small town in eastern Colorado, Akey has also involved seven additional high school students in volunteering at their local food bank and handing out Blessing Bags since 2014. The project also includes fundraising for the bags and blankets, education and raising awareness, and volunteering at the local food bank.

“I help the homeless because I want to believe that if I were in their situation, someone would help me,” said Akey. “Helping those who are homeless is ultimately the idea of helping those who are in a situation that we may know nothing about, but we have the compassion and kindness to reach out and create an impact, no matter how small.”