Army spouse Marla Bautista knows the homeless community firsthand. She was homeless as a teen.
Now, she’s enlisted her husband, Army SSG Ulisses Bautista, to help homeless communities wherever they’re stationed through targeted donations and partnerships.
SSG Bautista is a geospatial engineer with the US Army. Marla is the 2019 Fort Drum Military Spouse of the Year and accomplished writer, with a published book as well as many bylines to her credit.
Army Family Supports Homeless Communities Where They’re Planted
“As a teenager, I was homeless at some point. I know how hard it is to live without the basic living essentials to have a positive and productive life,” M. Bautista shared. “I promised myself if I ever got out of that situation I would give back to people in need.”
Through The Bautista Project, Marla and Ulisses create high-end home decor products. Then they donate all profits directly back to homeless community support organizations in their community.
“Everywhere we move, we literally just google homeless shelter and then call around to different shelters and find out what their needs are,” M. Bautista explained. “We start within one community and then branch out from there.”
Now, the Bautistas are on a mission to widen their support network, shedding light on the homeless communities that exist alongside military bases and around our nation.
“(Many people) don’t realize that there are people out there who just need a little help to get back on their feet.”
Recognizing Everyone’s Humanity
M. Bautista says that one of the hardest things for homeless people is feeling less than human and disconnected from their surrounding community. Part of their mission of giving back is to restore an individual’s sense of worth and connection to others. And it’s something that each of us can make a point to do every single day.
“A lot of times we turn our heads away,” M. Bautista says. “Instead say, ‘Hello, I don’t have money for you, but I hope you have a good day. I hope your day goes well.’ Making that connection helps that person to feel seen and human.”
The Bautistas are committed to going beyond the everyday gestures of humanity to make a tangible impact, supporting homeless people in many ways.
“We work with all homeless communities,” she explains. “In the veteran community, we do provide extra support for our veteran communities. We provide basic living supplies and education resources to homeless communities.”
Belonging Boxes, Blankets & Pillows
The Bautistas created a Belonging Box, filled with essentials and personal items that help homeless individuals feel seen and connected.
“We want people to feel like they belong to a community and that there are people out there that want them to do well.”
Inside are basic daily hygiene items, like a towel, soap, razor and shaving creme. These boxes help individuals without a home stay clean and feel more like themselves.
Marla was very young when she became homeless and knows that many homeless children might feel adrift.
It’s important to have something that is theirs, that no one can take away from them. In response to that, the Bautistas create and distribute blankets and pillows to homeless youth.
“In New York, we collected uniforms from the soldiers at Fort Drum, cut them up and created blankets and pillows,” she says. “We wanted to give them something that was theirs, something that no one could ever take away. And that was the blankets and pillows.”
Giving someone something that is theirs is important.
“It’s something that belongs to them and it’s something that no one can ever take away.”
Sharing Opportunity & Education
“I was a very young girl,” M. Bautista shares. “I could have easily gotten caught in the human trafficking system. And luckily I didn’t. But if there was one person out there to mentor me or guide me or provide me a place to sleep, I could have done a lot of things. I was out there because I had nowhere else to go.”
With that in mind, the Bautista Project offers homeless individuals support to change their life circumstances in big and small ways.
“Our organization provides food, hygiene items, and if need be transportation like bus tokens or bus passes. Or hotel vouchers if we have them.”
Changing the narrative around homelessness also means giving folks a hand up.
“We want to try to encourage the homeless community to get an education, whether that be high school or college.”
“We help with FAFSA,” M. Bautista says. “If they want to pursue a trade, we help with training, resumes and providing clothes for interviews. We provide financial literacy and self-care and also academic achievement.”
Connecting with New Communities After Every PCS
The Bautistas have made it a point to give back and serve others with every single PCS.
“When we were in Fort Drum, we primarily served the Watertown community and worked a lot with veterans peer to peer,” she explains. “We also partnered with ‘We Rise Above the Streets’ in Syracuse, a non-profit organization providing food and living resources for homeless communities.”
After a PCS to Florida, the Bautistas have recommitted to supporting Tampa-area homeless communities and organizations.
“In Tampa, we’re going to continue working with veterans peer to peer,” she shares. “But we’re also shifting our focus to the Tampa area. We’ve been working with Hillsborough County here.”
Everyone Can Make a Difference, Big and Small
“The issue of homelessness is a universal issue.”
The Bautista family and The Bautista Project operate from this basic assumption.
“No matter where we’ve gone, no matter what country we’ve been to, the need is still the same,” she explains. “They’re looking for a sense of belonging. The homeless community wants to feel as if they belong. And that’s what we believe.”
They also believe that each of us can make a positive impact on the world – and on the homeless community near us.
“We always encourage people to donate, not necessarily money, but we do encourage you to keep blessing bags in your car, keep snacks in your car.”
Blessing Bags can include a small snack, a gift card to a local quick food location and travel-sized hygiene items.
“We can all make a difference in the world. The smallest gestures change the world.”
You can sponsor Belonging Boxes in your community or support The Bautista Project’s mission. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org