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Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
El Jefe’s Taqueria is among the restaurants Cambridge is paying to serve hot and cold meals to homeless shelters.

One of the many interesting aspects of the Situation has been the way leaders in states and municipalities have taken matters into their own hands.

We know that individuals and both for-profit and nonprofit organizations are stepping up, but some government entities are, too. Across-the-board federal efforts would be better, especially if we don’t want to see New York suing Rhode Island and other such anomalies, but we’ll take what we can get.

Here’s a story about Cambridge, Mass., a city that some have called Moscow on the Charles mainly because it tries to help the poor.

Erin Kuschner, writes at the Globe‘s Boston.com, “With restaurants facing a sudden loss of revenue due to Gov. Baker’s mandated dine-in ban, and homeless shelters seeing a drop in volunteers helping to deliver and prepare food, the City of Cambridge came up with a solution to benefit both parties: Paying restaurants to make and deliver food to homeless shelters.

“The program launched Monday after the city reached out to both the Harvard Square Business Association and the Central Square Business Improvement District to help organize the initiative, with a goal of distributing roughly 1,800 to 2,000 meals to various shelters by the end of the week. …

“Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that it has already brought roughly 15 restaurants on board to make meals for local shelters like the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and Y2Y, a youth homeless shelter that has seen many of its student volunteers leave following Harvard’s closure.

“ ‘It just made so much sense,’ Jillson said. ‘We were on board immediately.’ …

“Among the restaurants serving Harvard Square’s homeless shelters are Black Sheep Bagel, Cardullo’s, El Jefe’s Taqueria, Orinoco, Subway, and Veggie Grill. Jillson said that they have tried to provide a range of healthy meal options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

“The Central Square Business Improvement District partnered with PAGU to deliver meals to Bay Cove Human Services and the Cambridge YMCA.

‘We made our first delivery [Monday],’ said Michael Monestime, executive director at the Central Square Business Improvement District. ‘It was pretty humbling and sad at the same time. It’s hard enough being homeless on any given day, and then under these circumstances it’s even more difficult.’ …

“In addition to providing hot and cold meals to those experiencing homelessness, the city has set up a Cambridge Community Food Line, available to any resident who is a high risk for food insecurity.

“The delivery service provides a weekly bag of produce and shelf-stable food items to individuals and families who have experienced the following: The food pantry or meal program you used has closed until further notice; you have lost your job or part of your income and cannot afford groceries at this time; you are homebound due to illness, disability, or quarantine and do not have friends or family that can bring you food; you are at high risk for COVID-19 (coronavirus) and do not have access to a regular food source.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Local readers, try to remember these restaurants and thank them with your business when we come out of the tunnel to the other side of this plague.

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Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Breaktime Café cofounders Tony Shu (left) and Connor Schoen hosting a kickoff launch party in Boston for a nonprofit that helps homeless youth learn job skills.

Not sure why so many recent posts have had a food angle. I’ve certainly been drawn to stories about food. In this article, a couple young guys who volunteered with homeless youth saw a way to help them move beyond homelessness with a bit of skills training and lots of moral support.

Back in December, as Max Jungreis wrote at the Boston Globe, the nonprofit was just getting set up.

Breaktime Cafe doesn’t look like much. It’s 1,500 square feet of typical office space on Portland Street, with gray carpeting, off-white walls, and tables shoved into corners. But by the time the cafe opens in the spring, its founders hope to transform the office into a resource for Boston’s homeless youth.

“The opening will mark a major expansion of a six-month pilot program founded last year by a pair of Harvard University undergraduates. It offered a handful of homeless youth on-the-job training as baristas, with the goal of bringing them into the workforce and out of homelessness. …

“The plan is to employ up to 15 homeless youth at a time. They’ll serve sandwiches, seasonal drinks, and coffee made from ethically sourced beans. That will be triple the number served in the pilot program, and a small but meaningful chunk of the estimated 325 people between the ages of 18 and 24 who were sleeping in Boston’s shelters and streets in January.

“Schoen said Breaktime has raised about $145,000, with much of the money coming from corporate sponsors and charitable trusts, such as Cambridge Trust and the Harnisch Foundation. He said the cafe also has attracted hundreds of individual donations through crowdfunding campaigns. Donated legal advice, accounting, and other services have helped defray costs. …

“Employees will earn $15 to $18 an hour. Aside from learning how to brew coffee, Schoen and Shu want to teach them financial literacy and professional skills, like writing a resume, personal budgeting, and interview techniques. Part of that will come through one-on-one mentorships with professionals from the cafe’s sponsors, many which are financial institutions like BlackRock and Eastern Bank.

“The cafe will occupy ground-floor space at 170 Portland St. Shu and Breaktime cofounder Connor Schoen, 21, are renting it from Community Work Services, the local branch of the national job-training nonprofit Fedcap, at a ‘very competitive rate,’ Schoen said. …

“The project dates to when Schoen and Shu met as volunteers at Y2Y Harvard Square, a homeless youth shelter run by Harvard students. Shu was inspired to volunteer by his mother, who as a young immigrant to Kansas from China often slept in her car.

‘I knew that it was my duty and my opportunity to use the skills and the resources that I have in front of me in order to pay it forward,’ Shu said. …

“[Schoen] learned that up to 40 percent of homeless adults identify as LGBTQ, according to one study.

“ ‘It just immediately became something I was really passionate about, and indignant about,’ Schoen said. ‘The fact that people are being kicked out of their homes for just coming out just doesn’t make any sense to me.’

“The two men realized that for many struggling young people trying to gain a foothold, there is a tricky period between the end of a work-training program and when they land a paying job.

“ ‘[Where] do they go after that to bridge them to the broader work force and sustainable careers?’ Shu said. ‘That’s what Breaktime does.’

“The business partners, who plan to run the cafe full time after graduating, impressed Brittany Butler, who runs the Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Innovation and Change Initiative, a student mentorship program that birthed Breaktime’s pilot. …

“Erica Grube-Grumt, 26, who graduated from the pilot program in March 2019 and now serves in the Navy — as well as on the new cafe’s advisory board — said it helped to build her self-confidence.

“ ‘A lot of people who are homeless, they feel unheard,’ Grube-Grumt said. ‘They feel like they’re in their own little corner on the street just begging for change, or begging for something to change. To finally be able to step on the pedestal and tell people what it’s like firsthand . . . can really make a provocative change.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

You may also be interested to read about Land of a Thousand Hills in Lynn and Breaking Grounds (“changing lives one cup at a time”) in Peabody, doing similar work with young people and people with disabilities.

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Photo: Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe
Dana Mendes held his niece, Izariel Brown, 5, as he walked around Boston’s annual Christmas in the City, a happy event for homeless children.

The other day, I was talking to a woman about her idyllic-sounding childhood on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. One thing that she mentioned really struck me. No one was homeless. People looked after each other, she said.

That is how it should be, I thought. In a country like the US, where there is enough wealth to house and care for everyone if we have the will, I’m naturally grateful that homeless children get a joyful day in December but can’t help wishing that their happiness didn’t get rolled up and put away afterward.

In this update on the giant Boston Christmas party that started small in 1989, we learn about the illness of event founder and lead organizer Jack Kennedy, who wouldn’t miss this party for the world.

Naomi Martin writes at the Boston Globe, “The children and parents awoke Sunday in homeless shelters around Greater Boston and boarded school buses, some with no idea where they were going other than to a Christmas event.

“As they entered the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, solemn faces broke into wide smiles and dropped jaws as they stepped onto a red carpet toward people waving and applauding them, along with extravagantly costumed characters — Disney princesses and Superman, Star Wars storm troopers and the Incredibles — all there to welcome them. Snowflake confetti fluttered. Lights sparkled. Parents dance-walked to the upbeat Christmas tunes, filming their children’s faces on phones, some with tears in their eyes.

“ ‘Wow, it’s beautiful!’ said Aylajoy Dufresne, 5, who wore a pink tutu, as she ran to princess Elena of Avalor and hugged her. ‘Elena!’ …

“Thousands of volunteers rallied this year to serve more than 6,000 people from dozens of shelters at the 31st annual Christmas in the City, which has grown from a small gathering at City Hall in 1989 to a massive party thrown for families struggling with homelessness.

“The event featured performances by the Blue Man Group, a gospel choir, and an Afro-Caribbean band, as well as a petting zoo, amusement rides, Santa Claus photo booths, face paint, manicures, haircuts, dental screenings, flu shots, and white-clothed tables holding pizza, chicken tenders, and gingerbread cookies.

“This year took on particular poignancy because the founder and lead organizer, Jake Kennedy, 64, has been diagnosed with ALS, which took the lives of his father and brother. Kennedy’s son, Zack, a neuroscientist at University of Massachusetts Medical School, has dedicated himself to researching a cure for the lethal disease. …

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston stood onstage beside Kennedy and his wife, Sparky, and expressed his gratitude and admiration of Jake Kennedy.

“ ‘Many of you in this room might not know him personally, but he does this because he loves you,’ Walsh said. ,,,

“Offstage, Kennedy struggled to speak, though he made a point to say one thing.

“ ‘When you ask people what they like best — the winter wonderland, Santa, the food, the Blue Man Group — they all reply,

‘ “This is the first time in our lives we’ve been treated with dignity and compassion,” ‘ Kennedy said. ‘That’s because of the volunteers.’ …

“Many parents said they were thrilled to see their children laughing and having fun with activities they can rarely access.

“ ‘I don’t want to miss anything; this is beautiful,’ said Anthony Raye, as he and his son, Antonio, 10, plotted their next moves: face-painting and visiting animals. …

“By a ‘salon’ sign, hairstylists buzzed, cut, and blow-dried the hair of parents and kids. Aaron Lauderdale, 7, received a mohawk, his face painted like a green Grinch.

“ ‘This is the one and only time I’ll let him have a mohawk,’ said his mother, Natashia Lauderdale. ‘This is his day. I’m just along for the ride. I feel like a big little kid all over again.’

“A parade led by men playing bagpipes filed through the room, followed by Santa Claus on a raised platform. The Kennedys led a countdown, prompting a red curtain to rise on one wall, leading to a winter wonderland of amusement rides and a petting zoo. Children clamored for a carousel, flying chair swings, bouncy castles, super slides, trampolines, and a rock-climbing wall. …

“Amelia McCauley pushed her 2-year-old, Lauryal, in a stroller. ‘I feel special,’ she said. ‘I don’t know when something like this is going to come by again, so I just want to enjoy it.’ ” More here.

 

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Homeless Young People

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Photo: Tom Parsons on Unsplash
Concern for homeless youth continues to grow.

Since I read Sarah Smarsh’s memoir Homeland, I have had to recognize that my difficult childhood was not as difficult as many other people’s. And my difficulties were never exacerbated by the relentless poverty Smarsh’s farming family experienced despite always working hard.

Still, I identified with some aspects of her story, like the wish to run away. In the book, Smarsh would decide to live with a different relative from time to time, which seemed to help her get her head together for a while. I never ran away, but even as an adult, I used to fantasize about ways a child might do that successfully. I finally concluded it’s not possible, despite The Boxcar Children and their apparent self-sufficiency.

It may not be possible to do so successfully, but children and teens do run away. Tristan Hopper and Kaitlin J. Schwan write about youth homelessness in Canada at The Conversation and suggest some ways to help them.

“Despite decades of policy and programming, youth homelessness remains an urgent issue in many communities across Canada. [Twenty] per cent of people experiencing homelessness are youth. Particular groups — Indigenous youth, racialized youth and youth who identify as LGBTQ+ — are at increased risk of homelessness due to intersecting forms of structural and systemic inequity. …

“Given this, there has been an increased focus on homelessness prevention across Canada and globally. … Research shows that meaningful and accessible activities like sports and arts can have significant impacts on youth social connectedness, better developmental outcomes, improved mental health and recovery from trauma. …

“Youth homelessness is a complex social issue affecting people between the ages of 13-24 who are living independent of parents or caregivers and do not have the means to acquire safe and secure housing. …

“A key component of youth homelessness prevention is not only preventing youth from experiencing homelessness in the first place, but also preventing young people from re-entering life on the streets. …

“Social exclusion, loneliness and limited social networks are particularly common issues for those who have recently left homeless status. These experiences powerfully contribute to mental health decline, substance use, feelings of hopelessness and subsequent returns to homelessness.

“Young people exiting homelessness may be housed in locations that are isolated from services, community centres and childcare. This distance can create barriers to accessing meaningful activities and can present challenges to social and political inclusion.

“All young people deserve stable and safe housing, and also the opportunity to be engaged in meaningful activities, [which include] resources that encourage social inclusion … Social inclusion may also mitigate risks of eviction. For example, neighbourhood groups may help navigate conflicts with landlords. This inclusion may help in the development of a new identity as young people re-articulate their sense of selves in a new community.

“Some studies show that youth experiencing homelessness view artistic activity and sports engagement as absolutely critical to their wellbeing, recovery and exits from homelessness. … Recreational sport participation can have several physical, psychosocial, emotional and developmental benefits. … However, for sport programming for homeless youth to be purposeful, the social, political and cultural barriers to participation must be addressed, including time and place of programming, cost of access and cultural acceptance.

“Research has shown that for Indigenous youth, re-connection with cultural practices — including sports — can be a critical component in connectedness and meaning. … We need to [invest] in frontline prevention programming that includes sports and arts activities driven by the needs and interests of the young people they serve.”

More at The Conversation, here. (I believe social scientists like these are doing good work, but their writing is awfully dry. For more-engaging and specific writing on youth in trouble, try UTEC, here.)

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Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post
Eddie Adams rehearses on a cello at George Mason University.

This summer I have been reading installments about the early life of someone I thought I knew well when she was a child. I thought I knew how difficult life was for her and her younger brother after her parents divorced. Wrong. Without getting into details, I’ll just say I didn’t have the slightest idea. Reading her story, I feel like crying. I feel like going back in time and trying to fix things.

Fortunately, I know this girl as an adult and can see that somehow she was saved, with the violin playing an important role in saving her. I’m telling you this because I want to share a story about a boy who was saved by a cello.

Allison Klein reported the cello story in April at the Washington Post.

“Eddie Adams didn’t have the money to buy college textbooks this semester, so he had to rely on his classmates at George Mason University to loan him theirs. He is the principal cellist in the school orchestra, but he couldn’t afford to buy or even rent a cello. That, too, he had to borrow.

“That was two weeks ago.

“After a story ran in The Washington Post about Adams’s tormented, impoverished childhood and how the cello has become his lifeline, people started donating money — more than Adams ever imagined was possible.

“The day the story ran, April 13, Adams looked at a GoFundMe page that had been set up for him and saw it had reached $25,000. It was so much money, he was sure there was a technical problem with the fundraising site.

“ ‘I legitimately thought it was a glitch in the system,’ said Adams, 20, who as a child moved around Northern Virginia with his mother and five siblings about seven times, including to a homeless shelter in Alexandria.

“The next day when the fundraiser reached $70,000 — and hundreds of people had left comments telling him he was worth every penny — he texted his strings professor and mentor, June Huang: ‘I’ve been crying all day … happy tears.’ …

“As of late Wednesday evening, the GoFundMe donations had reached $141,120.

“ ‘I still don’t want to believe it happened because it’s too much money for me to even think about,’ said Adams, who is estranged from his family and whose only home is his dorm room.

“On top of that, people donated other large and personal gifts. Two people are buying him cellos, one valued at up to $20,000 and another that will be specially made for him, valued at more than $30,000. A couple in Delaware bought him a $700 custom-fitted tuxedo he will wear during performances. Gift cards and checks started arriving at the university, totaling close to $5,000.

“The City of Alexandria invited him to play at a homeless shelter, Huang said. He plans to do it. …

“Adams’s first move was to pay a $250 deposit for an educational music festival he will be attending this summer. Then he went to the dentist for the first time since he was a child. And he paid off $15,000 in student loans that were accruing interest and had been weighing heavily on him.

“ ‘That was a very big moment for me,’ he said. …

“Huang, whose support of Adams was described in the Post story, said she has been deluged by calls and emails from people who want to help Adams.

Huang first heard Adams play at an audition for the school’s orchestra. She dropped her pencil, forgetting to score his performance because she found it so soulful and beautiful. …

“It was Huang’s private violin student Noah Pan Stier who at age 12 set up the GoFundMe page last year after Huang told him about Adams’s difficult childhood. Noah recently turned 13 and had a bar mitzvah, asking for donations for Adams instead of gifts. By early April, Noah had reached his goal of raising $10,000. That is the same GoFundMe that is now at more than $141,000. …

“Now, Huang is the point person coordinating Adams’s donations and talking with people around the country and in places such as Germany, England and Singapore who contacted her in recent days wanting to help. She has been getting pro bono guidance from various estate planners, tax lawyers and accountants to figure out how to keep the money safe for Adams and make it last. She said she’s been in nonstop motion the past 10 days, but she’s thrilled with all the support. …

“Huang said she includes one of Adams’s close friends, Adam Rothenberg, and his former middle school teacher, Gerald Fowkes, in financial discussions she has with Adams for transparency’s sake. She keeps all his financial information in a binder the four of them can look at. And she’s trying to teach Adams how to manage his newfound money at the same time she’s trying to figure it out herself. …

“Adams said he is now getting a lot of attention on campus, as people approach him and say they had no idea that his past was so difficult, that he faces so many challenges. He’s shy so the attention is not always easy for him.

“ ‘I have anxiety about these types of things, but I should get used it because it’s all really good,’ he said. ‘I’m trying not to think about it because finals are coming up and I’m trying not to let that take up all my head space. I still need to study and practice as much as I was before. I need to focus on my schoolwork because that’s the whole purpose of it all.’ ”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: NBC Boston
Project Home Again helps low-income families get on their feet again with furniture from donors such as movie companies finished with their stage sets.

I love writing about experiments that someone has thought up to help people in need. Usually the initiatives blossom and flourish, like the one I will tell you about today. But now is as good a time as any to admit that occasionally an experiment fails (consider one I wrote about helping displaced miners learn coding). I guess, for me, the bottom line is that you have to risk failure in order to move forward. No successes without failures.

In Lawrence and Andover, Mass., success seems to follow each new effort that Project Home Again tries out.

As Judith Kogan reported at WGBH, “When a film is made, sets are built and decorated to make a story seem real. And now in Massachusetts, when filming is done, those sets are having real-life impact, empowering people trying to rebuild their lives to design their own homes, free of charge. …

” ‘Say we’re decorating a dining room,’ explained Melissa Cooperman, a set decorator and buyer for films and commercials shot in Massachusetts. ‘We’ll need a table, we’ll need chairs, carpet, dishes, glasses, artwork for the wall, lighting, curtains, and window treatments.’

“When a film wraps, the producer needs to decide what to do with the accumulated stuff, often an abundance of home goods.

“Cooperman worked on the 2014 television mini-series ‘Olive Kitteridge,’ which was shot on the North Shore and Cape Ann. It had a fully-furnished house and apartment, and fully-stocked drug store.

“ ‘They said they wanted to donate everything,’ Cooperman recalled. …

“Project Home Again gets goods to where they’re most needed and wanted, partnering with about 400 social workers, founder and president Nancy Kanell said.”

Social workers ” ‘go to their clients’ homes with a checklist of everything that we stock. And they sit down with their clients and they go room by room, and decide what they need to make them feel comfortable,’ Kanell said. …

“Project Home Again serves refugees, veterans, people transitioning from halfway houses, and survivors of domestic violence.

“ ‘When they come here,’ Kanell said of the abuse survivors, ‘we roll out the red carpet.’ … Kanell remembers one particular survivor: ‘She came on a day we were closed because she was very afraid of her own shadow at that point. And she just wanted beige. She said she didn’t like color, didn’t deserve color.’

“Kanell and Cooperman found her a green chair.

“ ‘A green that people would be either very drawn to or very opposed to having in their home,’ Kanell recalled. ‘But there was something about it she liked. She sat down on it.’ …

“Kanell and Cooperman started pulling colorful rugs and a colorful table to go with the chair. …

“ ‘She was uncomfortable with it, but you could see she was starting to like it. And I made a deal with her that she could take it home, and if she didn’t like the color, I’d come and pick it up, and she could get all beige things. We even had colorful pots and pans for her! And she called about two weeks later. She said she and her son were so happy they were living in a colorful world, and it changed their outlook.’

“Project Home Again hasn’t just been changing lives. It’s changed the industry as well. Many set decorators now have Nancy Kanell on speed dial so they can get rid of their stuff as quickly as possible.” More here.

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Photo: Low Income Housing Institute
Six tiny houses share a common deck in Lake Union Village, Seattle, Washington.

Believe it or not, there are lots of people who spend their time trying to make life better for everyone. I know how easy it is to get distracted by headlines featuring people doing the opposite, but I find that focusing on the helpers is better for my mental health. The following article shows how well things can work when a city tries to make life better for everyone by helping those most in need.

At the community development magazine Shelterforce, Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), reported on a hopeful Seattle initiative.

“In 2017, I wrote a piece for Shelterforce on Seattle’s then-emerging effort to build tiny houses to shelter homeless families, couples, and singles. Over the past three years, Seattle has led the country in piloting this response to the homelessness crisis. …

“Tiny house villages are an effective crisis response to homelessness and have proven to be a rapid, cost-effective response with better outcomes than traditional shelters. …

“When Mayor Jenny Durkan took office in January 2018, she authorized the first tiny house village exclusively for homeless women. The Whittier Heights Village is located on property owned by Seattle public utility City Light and shelters single women, same-sex couples, seniors, pregnant women, and women with pets. The mayor also funded two additional villages: True Hope Village, which is church-sponsored and focuses on people of color including families with children; and Lake Union Village (LUV), for singles and couples, located on a city-owned parking lot. All three villages were planned, constructed, and opened in 2018, and together shelter 155 homeless people.

“How did this happen so quickly? The mayor prioritized the need. … A village requires anywhere from 6,000 to 30,000 square feet of vacant land, depending on the number of tiny houses and common facilities to be placed there. There are suitable urban infill sites zoned for residential and mixed use, as well as larger commercial and industrial sites.

“It takes careful research and help from local government to identify good sites, and we were quite surprised to find a large inventory of publicly owned underutilized and surplus sites held by the city, county, state and even the Port of Seattle. We also found multiple nonprofit, private, and church-owned properties that could be used. Nonprofit housing organizations own land that they hope to develop in the future, and these can be used on an interim basis, from two to four years, for a tiny house village.

“Each village needed only four to six months’ lead time to be constructed. … There are 15 to 34 tiny houses at each village, plus shared community kitchens, community meeting space, counseling offices, storage, donation huts, security huts, and plumbed bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities.

“An effective partnership between multiple departments in the city and LIHI was key in setting up the villages. … LIHI staff led the effort to raise funds to construct the tiny houses, reaching out to hundreds of donors and volunteers. We applied for permits, led work parties to build the houses, and developed the management and staffing plans.

“We undertook extensive community outreach to neighbors, businesses, and the public, working alongside city staff, including the Seattle Police Department and the Human Services Department, which funds LIHI for operations and services. While not everyone was supportive, they were all provided detailed information on the management plan and code of conduct, and were invited to submit their names to serve on a community advisory committee. Each village, staffed 24/7, has Village Organizers and dedicated case managers to assist people in obtaining long-term housing, employment and services.”

At Shelterforce, here, you can read more details, including Lee’s assessment of how the tiny house approach compares with other initiatives to address homelessness.

Photo: Andrew Constantino
A row of tiny houses in the Georgetown Village in Seattle. I like how residents show their love for their place.

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Photo: Oluwatoyin Adewumi/BBC
Tanitoluwa Adewumi playing chess.

That today’s media has a downside needs no elaboration, but think about the good that sharing stories can do! In this case, a young asylum-seeker in a New York City shelter gained attention for chess playing and, when the word got out, ended up with a home for his family.

Here’s what I first learned from the BBC. “Tanitoluwa Adewumi left his home in northern Nigeria with his family in 2017 because of the ongoing attacks by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. He moved with his family to the United States, but is currently living in a homeless shelter with his mother Oluwatoyin, father Kayode and older brother.

“Despite the challenges, when Tanitoluwa showed an interest in playing chess, his mother made sure that he could attend the local club. He has been playing for just over a year, but hours of practice and hard work have paid off – he has just won top prize in his age category at the New York State Chess Championship.” More at the BBC.

And here’s what happened after New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spread the word. This piece was published March 23. “Tanitoluwa Adewumi, age 8, skidded around the empty apartment, laughing excitedly, then leapt onto his dad’s back. ‘I have a home!’ he said in wonderment. ‘I have a home!’

“A week ago, the boy was homeless, studying chess moves while lying on the floor of a shelter in Manhattan. Now Tani, as he is known, has a home, a six-figure bank account, scholarship offers from three elite private schools and [more]. …

“I wrote in my column last weekend about Tani as a reminder of the principle that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not. A Nigerian refugee who had learned chess only a bit more than a year earlier, he had just defeated kids from elite private schools to win the New York state chess championship for his age group. …

“A GoFundMe drive raised more than $200,000 for Tani, his parents and his brother. A half-dozen readers offered housing — in a couple of cases, palatial quarters. Immigration lawyers offered pro bono assistance to the Adewumis, who are in the country legally and seeking asylum. …

“The family settled on one of the more modest and practical housing offers: An anonymous donor paid a year’s rent on a two-bedroom apartment near Tani’s current school. The apartment is clean, comfortable and freshly painted, without being luxurious, and the Adewumis gaze adoringly at their new kitchen.

“ ‘I want my mom’s cooking again!’ Tani mused as he explored the apartment. It was bare, but another donor had offered furniture, sheets and towels. Someone else was sending 100 chess books. …

“The Adewumis have decided that they will not spend a cent of the $200,000 GoFundMe money on themselves. They will take out a 10 percent tithe and donate it to their church, which helped them while they were homeless, and the rest will be channeled through a new Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation to help African immigrants who are struggling in the United States the way they were a week ago. …

“ ‘I’m a hardworking guy,’ Mr. Adewumi explained. He has two jobs: He drives for Uber with a rented car and sells real estate through Brick & Mortar. Someone has now offered him a free car so that he can keep more of the money he makes driving, and Tani’s mom was just offered a job as a health care aide at a hospital. …

“The family was tempted by the offers of full scholarships at top private schools. But Tani and his parents decided that while he might accept such a scholarship for middle school, he would be loyal and stick with the public elementary school, P.S. 116, that taught him chess and waived his fees for the chess club. …

“ ‘God has already blessed me,’ Mr. Adewumi told me. ‘I want to release my blessing to others.’ ”

More  at the Times.

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File photo of a man clinging to the top of a vehicle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans

Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters/Corbis
Clinging to the top of a vehicle before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard from the flooded streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, 2005. The city’s homelessness problem grew exponentially after Katrina. Then a unique collaborative decided to do something about it.

Homelessness is increasing all over this wealthy, unequal land of ours. And you know what? It’s possible to do something about it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Consider this effort in New Orleans, as reported by Jeremy Hobson on WBUR’s Here and Now.

“Across the U.S., more than a half million people have been identified as homeless. New Orleans faced a major crisis in homelessness following Hurricane Katrina.

In 2007, two years after the storm, there were more than 11,600 homeless people in the city. Since then, New Orleans stepped up its effort to tackle homelessness and has brought that number down 90 percent.

“Martha Kegel, executive director of Unity of Greater New Orleans, tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson the strategy to tackle the ‘unprecedented explosion’ of homelessness in the city following Katrina was threefold.

“First, Kegel says, Unity of Greater New Orleans — a nonprofit leading a collaborative of organizations providing housing and services to the homeless — had to assemble an outreach team that ‘was willing to go anywhere and do anything to rescue and rehouse a homeless person.’

“Second, Kegel says the group put all its effort behind gathering a rent assistance fund. ‘We went directly to Congress,’ she says. …

“And lastly, she says, the team took a ‘Housing First’ approach, which is ‘simply the idea that you accept people as they are,’ whether they are sober or not. … ‘Once they’re in their apartment, you immediately wrap all the services around them that they need to stay stable and live the highest quality life that they can live.

” ‘Actually, this is a very cost-effective approach, because when you think about it, it is costing the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money to leave people on the street. They’re constantly cycling in and out of jail on charges that wouldn’t even be relevant if they had an apartment, things like urinating in public, drinking in public, obstructing the sidewalk because they’re having to sleep on the sidewalk. Homeless offenses, in other words, that are costing the taxpayers a lot of money to be putting them in jail and processing them through the criminal justice system. Their health is deteriorating while they’re out on the street. They’re being taken by ambulance to the emergency room constantly. Those are huge charges.

” ‘Really what you need is, you know, a relatively small amount of money to pay for some rent assistance and they can contribute some of that rent as well with disability benefits or if they’re able to work with, you know, employment income and a little bit of case-management assistance. It really has been proven over and over again in studies to be very cost effective.

” ‘This is permanent housing. How long the rent assistance lasts depends on what people need. And we’re kind of masters at trying to spread what is always an inadequate amount of money as far as it’ll spread. …

” ‘We have reached what we call “functional zero,” which means that we compiled a list using our outreach team [and] using our shelter lists that are updated every night. We housed, in their own apartments, every veteran on that list except nine that had refused housing, mostly because of mental illness. And we continued to work with those nine, at that point, [we] have housed four more of them. Then going forward, we have made a commitment that any time a veteran becomes newly homeless, we house them in an apartment within an average of 30 days or less. And we’ve maintained that now for over four years and we’re extremely proud of that. It is very hard work. It requires a lot of organizations working together — and the VA and the Housing Authority — everybody working together to make that happen.’ ”

Think about those homeless veterans this Memorial Day. If we do “war” to them, can we also do housing with services? It’s about compassion and taking responsibility.

And I like how Kegel says, “You have to love the people in your community and want your community to thrive and care very deeply about the vulnerable people in it, that you’re willing to do, what we say, whatever it takes.”

More here.

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Photo: WGRZ
The owner of Sakina Halal Grill, Kazi Mannan, knows what it’s like to be hungry. Thanks to his paying customers in DC, he can give meals to the homeless for free.

Don’t you love successful people who remember how painful poverty and daily anxiety about food can be — and who decide to help others? Tim Ebner reports at the Eater in Washington, DC, about a restaurateur who did just that.

“Come 2 p.m. in many Washington, D.C., restaurants, the lunch rush is all but over. … But for Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill, the lunch rush is just getting started.

“On a late-Friday afternoon, the door to his Pakistani-Nepalese-Indian restaurant keeps swinging open. A homeless man who is deaf walks through the door. He carries a note. Mannan reads it, then attempts to sign with the man.

“Mannan asks if he wants something to eat while gesturing toward his mouth. The man holds up two fingers and pulls out $2, but Mannan shakes his head no.

“ ‘No money,’ ” he says. ‘You eat for free.’

“That’s Mannan’s policy for every homeless person who walks through the door. At Sakina Halal Grill, the poor, homeless, and hungry eat for free — Mannan calculates he gave away 6,000 meals in 2016 — and the waiters serve them in the dining room, as if they’re full paying customers.

“The buffet-style, halal restaurant, which is undergoing a name change from Mayur Kabab House to Sakina Halal Grill — ‘It’s a tribute to all the mothers around the world,’ Mannan, who lost his mother Sakina, 26 years ago, says of the switch. …

” ‘I’m the little guy on this block,’ Mannan said. ‘And, I love it. …

‘I want to say, “Hey listen, corporate people and people in politics! Listen to me!” I want to show them what love can do, and I want to spread a wave of love that touches the lives of millions.’

“Mannan says he’s living the immigrant dream, in a place where people are likely to take notice. Keeping his door open — which he did Thursday during the #ADayWithoutImmigrants strike — is more than just good business, it’s an expression of his faith. …

” ‘Kazi Mannan: The restaurant has been here for decades. I took it over in 2013 and this really was my dream. I came from a village in Pakistan that didn’t have electricity or plumbing. Our school was completely outdoors. It was always my dream to overcome poverty and own a restaurant. …

” ‘I started working at a gas station off Benning Road in Northeast. At the time, it was a very dangerous neighborhood. I worked there for a few years, and eventually, I saved enough money to start a limousine service; someone told me that I could make my own money as a driver. The funny thing is — that’s where you meet all of the stars of D.C. I still own the company, and I’m very proud that I can provide jobs to people like me, immigrants. Because seriously for me, this is not about the money. …

” ‘My mother taught me to be generous and give with my time. Because remember, we were broke. But, if we had a guest visit, she would make tea and welcome them into our home. She gave everything of herself. …

” ‘I’m a Muslim-American. And I like to believe that when I’m giving to the poor and hungry, God sees that. Just the act of giving a smile to someone can be a blessing. Just think about what food has the power to do. …

‘ ‘The chefs work together … and not only do they make delicious food, but they represent places, which are typically at odds with each other. They come together in this kitchen and use pure love and food. …

” ‘I am proud to be Muslim-American. I am proud to be a citizen of this country. And as a Muslim, I want to show others the true essence of Islam — and that is to love.”

More at the Eater, here. Manna’s initiative seems to be going strong (click here for a 2019 update), which is reassuring as the Eater article is from 2017. I was sorry to see that when Panera tried something similar, a pay-what-you-want model, it didn’t last. (See Bloomberg.) As philanthropic people keep trying to find ways to feed the hungry while running a business, a model that works long-term will emerge. Meanwhile, one kind individual can make a huge difference in many lives.

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Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Men in need of a suit for a funeral, say, or a job interview can get one fitted to perfection at the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man in Baltimore and Los Angeles.

When my daughter-in-law’s parents were doing spring cleaning one year, they donated boxes of clothes in excellent condition to one of the Providence agencies where I’m an ESL volunteer. Dorcas International has many services besides English classes, and one of them is a secondhand shop that provides household goods and clothes for refugees (if you are used to Africa, you definitely need a warm coat for Rhode Island winters) and for needy residents referred by other agencies.

I was glad to learn that there are similar services in other cities.

David Karas writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “On a frigid December afternoon, Tyler Freburger is standing in front of a set of mirrors wearing a suit picked out for him by a tailor. He sorely needs the attire for a funeral later in the week.

“A homeless veteran living in Baltimore, Mr. Freburger would usually have difficulty securing such an outfit, especially one selected for him personally. But in this instance, he was referred to the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man.

“Since 2011, the organization has been helping men improve their lives by equipping them for job interviews and other occasions with well-fitting suits and accessories. …

“ ‘It’s a blessing that they are here,’ says Freburger, who notes that the organization has treated him well and has been working to supply what he needs – something he is not accustomed to in his daily life. …

The nonprofit was founded by clothing designer Christopher Schafer, who sought to give those in need an experience more like a visit to his custom clothing shop than stopping at a warehouse. …

“[Some years ago,] When Schafer was delivering some custom suits to a client, he was handed two bags of gently worn suits in return.

“ ‘He said I spoiled him with how I made his custom suits fit, and he couldn’t wear his old suits anymore,’ Schafer says. ‘They were still very nice, and he didn’t know where to take them.’

“Schafer found a nonprofit that would accept the suits and put them to good use, but as time went on, more of his clients did the same thing. At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to launch his own nonprofit, Sharp Dressed Man. …

” ‘Since those two bags of clothes, I believe we have dressed about 7,000 people,’ Schafer says. .. ‘If you treat a guy with dignity, he has a better chance of treating himself with dignity. … It is really powerful when you see guys when they are suited up and they are kind of glowing,’ he says. …

” ‘I had a battle with drugs and alcohol for 20 years, and if I wouldn’t have changed my life, I either would have been dead or I would have been in line asking for free soup,’ he says. … ‘That’s why I do it.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Katherine Taylor for the Boston Globe
Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness.

How does one write a headline for a story like this? It’s not exactly about music giving homeless people hope. It’s more that focusing on music — music performed for you and music you make — activates a positive side of who you are. It’s that positive things can lead to other positive things.

During the 2018 Christmas season, there was quite a bit of comfort and joy being spread by music in the Greater Boston homeless community. Zoë Madonna wrote about it at the Boston Globe.

“The CASPAR homeless shelter, a low-slung brick building, crouches on Albany Street in Cambridge. When percussionist Jennie Dorris wheels her marimba through the front door, half of a large central room has been cleared, and a line of grizzled men sits at a long row of tables, watching. An enthusiastic older man in a Boston Strong T-shirt marches up, introducing himself as Danny. ‘Finally, the marimba’s here!’ he exclaims, grinning. ‘I wait all year for this.’…

” ‘What compels me is to take music where it’s needed and treat everyone with respect,’ says founder Julie Leven, a violinist. This year, its eighth, Shelter Music Boston has mounted scores of concerts in shelters throughout the Greater Boston area, including a full schedule in the days leading up to Christmas.

“It’s not the only music group focusing on the homeless around Boston. Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness. …

“Eureka’s most ambitious project, according to cofounder and conductor Kristo Kondakci, was a commissioned composition, Stephanie Ann Boyd’s ‘Sheltering Voices.’ Auditions for choral fellowships for women were held at Pine Street Inn and Women’s Lunch Place, says Kondakci, a recent graduate of New England Conservatory who has worked with the homeless since his student days at Boston College High School. Around 15 took part.

“Carrie Jaynes and Rottisha Mewborn are friends who met at Pine Street Inn. When they saw the audition sign-up sheet, they were initially skeptical, they say — they’re used to well-meaning outsiders putting in a few hours and then disappearing. But they went to the audition in March, in a room where the heater was going haywire. To cool it down, Kondakci threw open the door of a nearby freezer.

“And that, Mewborn says, put them at ease. … As Eureka Fellows, Jaynes and Mewborn rehearsed weekly with Kondakci, learning ‘Sheltering Voices.’ They were never treated as anything less than important and independent, they say.

“ ‘We became so desensitized at Pine Street that we forgot how we can be treated like a normal person,’ says Jaynes. At the rehearsals, she says, ‘we knew that we were in this together. We knew that we were all right . . . we could be human again. We could show emotion and not be judged if we cried, or laughed, or showed a softer side of us.’ …

“Shelter staff say that after Shelter Music Boston concerts, the atmosphere is more peaceful, and nights are more restful, notes Leven, who also plays with Handel and Haydn Society and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. …

“As for the Eureka fellowships, Jaynes and Mewborn say their experiences were powerful. ‘Having Kristo say “We’ll get you there no matter what” built up our trust and our safety,’ Mewborn says. Because Pine Street Inn has a daily lottery, she explains, she never knows if she’ll have a bed to sleep in each night. There’s little in her life she can truly count on. ‘So just having this little safety — even if things are going crazy out here, we can get there — it’s amazing.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Simon Buckley
Grandad, an artist who has experienced homelessness, is one of 33 people behind the “Doodle on Ducie Street” mural, part of the International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit in Manchester, UK. The event used art as part of a holistic approach to tackling homelessness.

So many initiatives to address the world’s problems feel like a drop in the bucket, but I have to believe that the bucket can be filled — even if it’s only one drop at a time, even if some drops spill out along the way and have to be replaced. Little things mean a lot if they hit a person just at the moment of receptivity.

In England, a homelessness summit last fall tested the potential of art to spark conversations between haves and have-nots and also to give homeless people a reason to get up in the morning. Helen Lock has the story at the Guardian.

“Two armchairs are facing each other in the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester. Denise Harrison, a mental health blogger with past experience of homelessness, is sitting in one of them, waiting for questions.

“A member of the public sits down opposite her, and tentatively asks if she thinks it’s OK to give money to people on the street, as charities discourage it. ‘It’s down to personal choice – you shouldn’t feel bad if you do or if don’t,’ replies Harrison. ‘Some worry it’s enabling addictions, but it’s also providing someone with the option to pay for shelter. On the street, someone can end up with several free McDonald’s burgers but nowhere to sleep that night.’ …

“Dialogues are part of a performance artwork called Are You Sitting Comfortably? by the artist Emma Turner, who felt the public were becoming inured to homelessness in Manchester. The official number of rough sleepers was 278 in 2017, a 41% increase on the previous year, but the true number of its homeless people – counting those in temporary accommodation – is likely to be much higher.

“As Harrison says of her time suffering with alcohol addiction and sofa surfing after the breakdown of her marriage: ‘It’s scary how quickly a situation that was so abnormal became normal, my new normal. It can happen to anyone.’

”The work was part of the inaugural International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit, running 12-18 November [2018], which explored a potentially contentious idea: the role of arts and culture in tackling homelessness.

“Manchester was chosen for the event because the city council’s homelessness strategy for the next five years explicitly includes a commitment to increasing access to arts, and because of how the city’s cultural sector has stepped forward to provide support for the council’s plan. …

“Third sector organisations began working together to approach the council, consulting businesses, universities, cultural organisations and the faith sector, as well as people with experience of homelessness. Their findings underpinned the new Manchester Homelessness Charter. … Officials will now work towards what is described as a jigsaw of homelessness support approaches, rather than focusing exclusively on immediate needs such as shelter and healthcare. This includes the chance to meet people, build skills and have fun. …

“But how would this approach work in practice when the crisis is so severe? Beth Knowles, an adviser on homelessness for the mayor’s office, reiterated that the call for a more holistic approach came from homelessness services themselves – even frontline providers such as the night shelters.

“ ‘I’ve spoken to some about trialling the jigsaw approach,’ she said, ‘and while it might not seem the most immediate thing when you’re trying to find beds, some see the value in maybe having some singing or photography sessions on site, because it’s worked well.

‘Of course, not every council officer is going to see this as a priority. But to do something, it doesn’t have to be a priority. It’s part of a whole package. It’s about what that individual needs and offering it.’

“[According to Amanda Croome, chief executive of the Booth Centre, a day facility for people who are homeless or at risk,] ‘We find that if you put someone into a flat and they have no support network, no interests and nothing to do, then very often in six months they’ll be back on the street. What the arts do is give people a new perspective.’

“Lawrence McGill has become an avid gardener since first becoming a regular visitor to the Booth Centre, filling salvaged containers with soil and seeds. He has also written poetry, and a song, ‘Spinning Plates,’ about juggling life’s hardships. ‘My life started the day I stepped into this place.’ ”

Read about other aspects of the festival, including a description of the “immersive opera” Man on a Bench, here.

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Photo: Mashable
Teen girls invent portable, solar-powered tent for people experiencing homelessness.

I worked at MIT in the early 2000s in the same building as a foundation that gave grants to inventors, both established inventors and young people. How the family made the money that funded the foundation is a complicated story, but this support for inventors is a big deal, so hats off for that!

Brittany Levine Beckman writes at Mashable about an invention by an inspiring group of teen girls.

“As Daniela Orozco picks off excess plastic bordering a 3D-printed box, she recalls how many homeless people she saw on her way to school when she was a high school freshman. Just one.

“Four years later, the number has multiplied. … In the San Fernando Valley, homelessness increased 36% to 7,094 people last year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency’s annual count. Daniela and her friends wanted to help, but giving money wasn’t an option.

” ‘Because we come from low-income families ourselves, we can’t give them money,’ the high school senior says. …

“That was the starting point for their invention: a solar-powered tent that folds up into a rollaway backpack. The girls and 10 others from their high school had never done any hands-on engineering work before, but with the help of YouTube, Google, and trial-and-error, they got it done. They hope that one day, their tent will improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness in their community.

“The teen girls from San Fernando High School … none of whom had coded, soldered, sewn, or 3D-printed before they joined forces, won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to develop the invention.

“They were recruited by DIY Girls, a nonprofit that teaches girls from low-income communities about engineering, math, and science, to go after the grant.

” ‘I knew I wanted to apply for it, but I needed a team,’ says Evelyn Gomez, 29, the executive director of DIY Girls. ‘I went back to my calculus teacher at my high school and did a hands-on recruitment activity.’ …

“Hands-on STEM education at schools, especially for girls in low-income communities, is severely lacking, Evelyn says. Women make up just 29% of the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Board, a federal agency. Around 6% of female working scientists and engineers are Hispanic or Latina.

” ‘I studied aerospace engineering. When I was getting my master’s degree, I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. … You’re going to represent the Latina community in a bad light if you ask a stupid question or you’re going to represent women in a bad light if you ask a stupid question, and of course that’s not true. But I felt that.’ …

“In the beginning, the team depended on Evelyn for guidance, but they quickly started doing everything on their own. If they had an issue with a solar panel not functioning properly, they watched YouTube videos. If they couldn’t figure out a stitch pattern, they Googled it. The girls even developed their own inspirational hashtag: #wegetitdone.

” ‘You’re learning new things you’ve never even heard of or even thought of,’ says Chelly Chavez, who learned the programming language C++ to get the technical aspects of the tent to behave. The tent has button-powered lights, two USB ports, a micro-USB port, and the girls have even tested a sanitizing UVC light on a countdown timer. …

“They made two prototypes of the tent, but the first one is now in shreds. They put it through the ringer during quality control tests, tearing it with a knife, dousing it with water, and stomping on it. … They destroyed their finished product, just to start again. It was yet another tough engineering lesson the girls would learn. …

“The $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program could only be used on the invention itself, not traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to present the award. So DIY Girls fundraised an additional $15,000 to send the team to MIT.” More here.

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Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press
Candice Payne, “a regular person,” rented hotel rooms for more than 100 homeless people in Chicago — and strangers followed her lead — as temperatures headed way below freezing.

A Chicago real estate broker, a self-styled “little black girl from the South Side,” had a moment when she just couldn’t bear to see a particular bad thing happen.

The temperature in Chicago was about to go way below zero last week, and Candice Payne started thinking about the people in the city’s homeless camp. Here’s what can result when “a regular person” realizes that empathizing while doing nothing is not an option.

Sandra E. Garcia has the story at the New York Times.

“As temperatures plunged to life-threatening lows this week, more than 100 homeless people in Chicago unexpectedly found themselves with food, fresh clothes and a place to stay after a local real estate broker intervened.

“The broker, Candice Payne, 34, said it was a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ decision to help. ‘It was 50 below, and I knew they were going to be sleeping on ice and I had to do something,’ she said on Saturday.

“Ms. Payne contacted hotels and found 30 rooms available at the Amber Inn for Wednesday night at $70 per room. …

“After Ms. Payne paid for the rooms on a credit card, she asked on her Instagram account for anyone who could help transport the homeless people. Soon she had a caravan of cars, S.U.V.s and vans with volunteer drivers.

“ ‘We met at tent city, where all the homeless people set up tents and live on the side of the expressway,’ Ms. Payne said. … She asked as many people as she could to go with her to the Amber Inn as donations were pouring in to her Cash App account. …

“ ‘We had to accommodate everyone. It was really overwhelming,’ Ms. Payne said. ‘They were so appreciative. They couldn’t wait to get in a bath and lay in a bed.’

“Ms. Payne bought toiletries, food, prenatal vitamins, lotions, deodorants and snacks and made care packages to help make the people feel comfortable. Restaurants donated trays of food, and many people called the inn. …

“ ‘People from the community, they all piggyback off Candice,’ said Robyn Smith, the manager of the Amber Inn. ‘Other people started calling and anonymously paying for rooms,’ she added, and Ms. Smith lowered the price to accommodate more people. What started out as 30 rooms doubled to 60, Ms. Smith said. …

‘I am a regular person,’ Ms. Payne said. ‘It all sounded like a rich person did this, but I’m just a little black girl from the South Side. I thought it was unattainable, but after seeing this and seeing people from all around the world, that just tells me that it’s not that unattainable. We can all do this together. …

“ ‘This was a temporary fix, and it has inspired me to come up with more of a permanent solution.’ ”

Talk about the Power of One! Here’s hoping that the state’s wealthy governor, who called Payne to offer his praise, gets on board with a permanent solution.

More at the New York Times, here.

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