This formerly homeless man is gathering funds and volunteers to help people still on the street

Photo of a line of people carrying supplies next to several tents in a dark tunnel.

Volunteers with One TRIBE outreach deliver supplies to encampment residents in NoMa. Photo courtesy of Kirk Ellis

This winter, Kirk “Scooby” Ellis is hoping to improve the nights of people experiencing homelessness through his GoFundMe fundraiser “Sleep Warm Tonight” Sleeping Bag Event, an initiative in which he is working to collect donated sleeping bags or purchase enough sleeping bags to distribute 1,000 sleeping bags to homeless individuals in D.C. 

In an interview, Ellis said he personally knew three people who have died recently while experiencing homelessness and hopes the sleeping bags will prove valuable to those who cannot or choose not to access shelters during the November-March hypothermia season.  

“It gives you a sense of independence and freedom because now you’re not necessarily dependent on a place to get warm,” Ellis said of sleeping bags. This is not his first time organizing for the homeless community. In November, 2019, he organized an event in which he distributed 300 pairs of long johns to people experiencing homelessness between Union Station and Georgetown. As he passed out the thermal underwear, however, Ellis realized sleeping bags were a more pressing need. 

“This is a plus and a minus because the need was for sleeping bags,” he said. “Here we go coming into the Christmas holiday when I should’ve been pushing this priority agenda a little earlier. That’s the thing though, I come with experience, I know better for next year.” 

The text "Mission Accomplished" is displayed above a photo collage showing a group of volunteers and several suitcases full of long johns
A graphic shared by Ellis after the long john fundraising campaign and distribution ended. Courtesy of Kirk Ellis

Michael Harris, who lives in a tent in NoMa, had some concerns about the plan. He pointed out that for residents who already have a lot to carry, sleeping bags can add to the burden. He added that more expensive cold weather sleeping bags are most helpful. He recommended that Ellis cut his goal from 1,000 sleeping bags to 500 in order to make distribution easier and ensure that the bags are of high-quality.  

“The sleeping bags I think are okay, but I’d say he should think about bringing down the number,” Harris said. 

Based on his own experience being homeless for roughly six years, Ellis said not all outreach to the homeless community is helpful. He plans to give residents the sleeping bags and ask nothing in return. “A lot of charity groups come out there with agendas,” Ellis said. “‘We wanna take pictures with you. We wanna give you God like you don’t have God because you’re homeless. You need to be prayed on and not for.’” 

Ellis, who says he never used the shelter system, said there isn’t a cure-all for homelessness and that outreach efforts should respect people’s choices when it comes to shelter.  

“Let’s not forget the part that the shelter is an uprooting process. Imagine you living in your home, and every night instead of you going to your home, you gotta go somewhere on the other side of town and stay there for eight hours.” 

For his next project, Ellis wants to partner with D.C. government to offer standardized storage containers to people experiencing homelessness, similar to blue recycling bins. He said recognizable and portable bins could alleviate issues with property being thrown away by city employees or passersby. 

But for now, he’s focused on the cold temperatures in the District and hopes that Sleep Warm Tonight will prove helpful. “It’s giving you the chance to fight the elements on your own terms,” Ellis said.  

Issues |Living Unsheltered

Region |Washington DC

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.