The Sub Zero Mission Believes No One Should Freeze in America

Kathryn Harris

As warmth slowly comes to Northeast Ohio, many look forward to the promise of sunny days and outdoor activities. In the long months of winter, the once-exciting idea of leaving the office or school to go home at the end of the day was punctured by a wintry walk to the car. While it was a much milder winter than past years, the coming of spring and summer means longer days and the end of that bitter cold, something with which we as Ohioans are all too familiar. Despite the relatively temperate winter, the upcoming seasons also provide some respite for Cleveland’s homeless populations, many of whom faced a cyclical life-and-death battle in the freezing temperatures each night. That dreaded walk to the car pales in comparison to what some homeless individuals had to endure. It is here where organizations like the Sub Zero Mission are so clearly important.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Al Raddatz, the Founder and CEO of the Sub Zero Mission, a charity that “collects sleeping bags, coats, hats, and any warming item” and distributes them to the homeless during the winter. Run entirely by a group of dedicated volunteers, it is difficult to say which aspect of their young but invaluable organization is most noteworthy, but one is certainly the Survival Coats. These are “weather proof, sub zero sleeping bags that turn into coats” and were originally designed by the staff members at the Empowerment Plan, an agency in Detroit with which the Sub Zero Mission has partnered. (pictured here)  Raddatz and team give hundreds of coats and thousands of hats, gloves, and hand warmers to homeless men and women they see outside or meet in shelters. Made completely from donated items, the Survival Coats are sewn by formerly homeless persons, offering the workers an innovative experience of employment and philanthropy.

Agencies like the Sub Zero Mission demonstrate the potency of collective action and the power of dedication to one’s community. The organization, which was founded in 2009 on a particularly cold evening, started in possibly the most selfless way possible. Raddatz and friends thought of the men, women, and children whose only source of heat was perhaps no more than a sewer grate. The Sub Zero Mission has since given these warming items to a wide range of homeless people, but has a special focus on veterans largely because Raddatz and many of the agency’s volunteers and board members have served time in the military. Veterans make up 20-25 percent of the overall homeless population, a shockingly high percentage that Raddatz said was “the driving force of getting out there” and distributing these much-needed items. Like any demographic, homeless people are far from homogenous and Raddatz has found that homeless veterans face unique challenges. Many, Raddatz pointed out, may be unaware of having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other medical conditions. Others may also favor greater autonomy over living in a shelter, making Raddatz’s efforts all the more vital.

At its core, the Sub Zero Mission is really about people helping people, veterans helping veterans and its impact has been apparent in its only four  years of activity. Based in Northeast Ohio, the Sub Zero Mission has a chapter in Buffalo, New York and has collaborated with agencies in Detroit.  Raddatz looks forward to expanding his organization to cities along the Great Lakes.

            Instead of focusing primarily on the why and how we have so many people without housing, the Sub Zero Mission acknowledges the fact that poverty exists, and concentrates more so on giving the warming items to the homeless when they need it the most. Even though winter has come and gone, the Sub Zero Mission is already preparing for the cold months ahead. This early action is especially important knowing that the Sequestration may cause several shelters to close in 2014. With fundraisers and plenty of opportunities to get involved, the agency hopes to continue its impact and expand its scope in the coming years.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle August 2013 Cleveland, Ohio

Editor’s Note:  For more information on Sub Zero Mission you can go to their website at to ship a sleeping bag, donate, volunteer or for more information on upcoming events.