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Coats that transform into sleeping bags aim to help homeless in Muskegon

Morphing seamlessly from a heavy-duty parka into a sleeping bag, the 'EMPWR Coat' prioritizes both form and function.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — On this World Homeless Day, a new resource for those experiencing homelessness along the lakeshore materialized in the form of dozens of special coats, donated to the Muskegon Rescue Mission.

The effort owes its existence to a partnership between the DTE Foundation, the non-profit that produced them and the Rescue Mission.

You might call it the ‘Swiss army knife’ of winter jackets.

Morphing seamlessly from a heavy-duty parka into a sleeping bag, the garment prioritizes both form and function.

From its inception, the coat was designed and built to save lives and will be put into action this winter in the City of Muskegon.   

“This allows them, if they need that option, to be able to do that safely,” Dan Skoglund said of the shoreline’s unhoused population.

Skoglund serves as the Rescue Mission’s executive director.

The shelter received 30 coats, which it intends to give away as the weather turns colder.  

“It gives us a new and different way to be able to care for people in our community that are experiencing homelessness and need to have a warm, safe place,” Skoglund related.

Simply undo the Velcro that gives the jacket its shape and the process is over in mere moments, transforming from parka to sleeping bag and back again, depending upon its wearer’s needs.

The potentially life-saving gear got an unexpected start around a decade earlier.  

“It was founded in 2012 by Veronica Scott and was really only meant to be a class project coming out of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit,” Alissa Novoselick noted.

That semester worth of work ten years ago became the Empowerment Plan, a Michigan-based non-profit with an international distribution network.

The organization’s website shows its ‘EMPWR Coats’ have made it as far as Africa, Australia and the Pacific Islands, serving families in need worldwide.

Novoselick is its vice president of finance and operations.

“We are upward of 70,000 coats that have been distributed,” she related. 

Each of them, made by hand at the organization’s Detroit-area production facility using high-quality weather-proof fabric.

Behind the machinery was a team of skilled workers, many of whom know what it’s like to need a place to turn.

“We take people out of shelter, and offer them an opportunity to learn textile manufacturing, but also provide a lot of wraparound services like child care resources, housing resources, and transportation,” Novoselick said, describing the organization’s full-circle workforce-development strategy.

The Muskegon Rescue Mission said the coats would be given out to those guests with the greatest need.  

A need that’s steadily growing.

“The request for shelter is up over 35-percent and the request for food is up over 40%,” Skoglund said. “So, the need is growing, and we anticipate it’s going to grow even higher.”

For more information regarding Muskegon Rescue Mission, click here.

For more details or donation information for the Empowerment Program, click here.

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