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Posts Tagged ‘homelessness’

Photo: Jessica Ojala
Rabbi David Fainsilber (left) and Rev. Rick Swanson are working with law enforcement and volunteers to combat winter homelessness in Vermont.

Vermont gets really cold in winter, and the most recent winter was especially brutal. That is why a coalition of volunteers, religious leaders, and law enforcement officers have banded together to combat homelessness. Seeing families with young children living in their cars in bitter, brutal weather made them say, Enough is enough.

Reports Mark Davis at Seven Days Vermont, “An improbable alliance of religious leaders, law enforcement officials and volunteers quietly opened Lamoille County’s first homeless shelter. The sheriff’s department owns the Yellow House in Hyde Park, and a band of volunteers and sheriff’s deputies has been staffing it since the first frozen weeks of February.

“The shelter isn’t getting any government funds or charitable donations; in fact, it hasn’t been officially ‘approved’ by the town. But the Yellow House has hosted a steady stream of guests this winter. …

“The number of people without housing in Lamoille County swelled from 22 in 2016 to 64 in 2017, including 34 children, according to an annual survey by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. But the closest shelters were more than an hour away, in Burlington and Vergennes.

“Organizers tried without success for three years to open a permanent shelter in nearby Morrisville. They concluded that it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission and opened the Yellow House with little public notice.

” ‘It’s a “Let’s just do this” approach. Enough is enough. There simply can’t be families and individuals out in the cold anymore,’ said Rabbi David Fainsilber of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe. ‘I appreciate all the questions and concerns people may have. And yet, at the end of the day, I personally have to ask myself, Did a family stay out of their car and have a warm place to stay?’

“Organizers such as Fainsilber envisioned Yellow House as a winter-only endeavor. The Hyde Park planning and zoning offices gave the shelter temporary verbal approval before it opened, according to backers, but will spend the coming months mulling over whether to grant official permits. No hearings have been scheduled.

” ‘I’m hoping it’s not a battle. But if it is a battle, I’m committed, because the interfaith community is, too,’ said Sheriff Roger Marcoux Jr., a key backer of the project. …

“Part of the problem is the nature of rural homelessness, according to shelter advocates. In Burlington, the itinerant people who congregate downtown are highly visible. But the homeless in Lamoille County tend to live out of sight in an unheated camp in the woods, or in cars, so residents don’t appreciate the size of the population. …

“In late December, temperatures plummeted to minus-25 degrees, and Rev. Rick Swanson of Saint John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church heard that people were sleeping in tents in the woods. Swanson opened the doors to his Stowe church. One man came in from the cold and spent several nights sleeping inside, by the altar. …

“Religious leaders reached out to Marcoux, the longtime sheriff, who is elected to his post and enjoys broad discretion in setting program and budget priorities within his jurisdiction. Marcoux wasn’t just cooperative; he offered to host the shelter.

“The Yellow House is part of a complex of abandoned buildings across the street from the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department in Hyde Park village. …

“To head off any potential community concerns about safety, he pledged on-duty deputies would regularly stop by. …

” ‘I’m in the business of protecting the public, and I feel like I’m doing that,’ Marcoux said. ‘Why are people living in cars when I’ve got a house I’m heating?’ ”

More.

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One of the many reasons I’m grateful to WordPress is that, as the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, it gives me some visibility among other bloggers.

One day recently I garnered a “like” from the Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands. I decided to check out their blog, and I found a good story to share.

Michelle Taylor writes, “Zainab Bhagat has always reached out to the hurting, even when she didn’t realize she was practicing philanthropy. As a child in elementary school, she noticed one of her friends often went without. Her friend never seemed to have school supplies or a complete lunch. Without a second thought, Zainab shared everything she had to offer. …

“When Zainab had the opportunity to earn the Gold Award in high school, she never questioned if she should pursue it or not. She felt it a moral obligation to share her time, talent, and treasure with the world. …

“She knew the project would take her full devotion. She would have to spend at least 80 hours researching, planning, and working her project. She would have to present her concept before a committee, and her project would have to address a real issue in her community. But anything worth doing is rarely easy.

“Zainab created a documentary about homelessness in her hometown of Irmo, South Carolina. She interviewed and became fast friends with a local teen who had endured incredible hardship. Watch her hard-hitting and inspirational documentary [here].”

More at the Girl Scouts of South Carolina blog, here. How reassuring it is to see young people like this readying to enter the world of adulthood. They will make that world better.

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I like reading that the numbers of socially conscious companies are increasing. Recently, Naz Akyol at Social Enterprise Greenhouse in Providence wrote about one such business.

“Three years ago, active duty airman Michael Gnoato lost his life in a fatal car accident in Wyoming. Major Pettaway, a Marine who knew Mikey since high school, missed the funeral because he was deployed in Afghanistan at the time, but Navy Seabee Sadam Salas was there to speak at their best friend’s funeral. …

“The two young men are the co-founders (as well as CEO and CFO, respectively) of Mike’s Ice, a deliciously novel idea that pays tribute to their fallen friend, and also a social enterprise committed to fighting veteran homelessness and more.

“Sadam and Major [sell] Thai style ice cream rolls that come in seven fun flavors, … a commodity that only recently hit US markets with only a handful of stores in New York City. They also decided to give their venture four wheels and make Mike’s Ice a mobile truck. …

“Everything that is sold at Mike’s Ice is made from scratch, which means the truck needs to be equipped with special ice cream making machines as well as equipment for storing their ice cream bases and toppings. When asked about the greatest challenge they have faced so far, Sadam smiles and says: ‘You don’t sleep a lot.’ …

“Mike’s Ice received a SEG Hub Scholarship from Social Enterprise Greenhouse … [and] is partnered with Backpacks For Life, a nonprofit that provides homeless veterans with backpacks that contain essentials for survival.

‘We are both veterans, and now we are also entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs exist to solve problems,’ Sadam says. ‘Veteran homelessness, suicide …. these problems shouldn’t exist. These are people who fought for their country.’

More here.

Photo: Social Enterprise Greenhouse

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Check out this story in the Boston Globe. It seems especially timely given the increasing numbers of people growing their own food and the concerns about many others who are struggling.

“Every summer, 40 million backyard farmers produce more food than they can use, while people in their communities go hungry. If only they could link up. Enter Gary Oppenheimer, 59, of West Milford, N.J. He was directing a community garden a couple of years ago when inspiration struck. In May 2009, AmpleHarvest.org hit the Internet, connecting food pantries and gardeners. In just 150 days, Rosie’s Place in Boston became the 1,000th pantry on the site, and the growth has continued. As of Labor Day, 4,188 pantries were listed, in all states. Oppenheimer says the nonprofit organization is actively seeking grant funding to sustain what has sprung up.” Read more here.

If you have extra produce from your garden, you can go to AmpleHarvest to find a food pantry near you.

Photographs: Sandra M. Kelly

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When Suzanne lived in San Francisco, she told me about a guy in the Tenderloin district who wanted to do something for the homeless people who were his neighbors. He would stop and talk to people, and eventually he decided to hand out new socks, because that was what was needed. Small. Not solving any underlying problems. Just making someone feel noticed.

Recently I did a web search to see if I could figure out who the guy was and write a blog post. I found someone in San Francsico who started doing similar small kindnesses, but I’m not sure it’s the same guy. (If you know, please tell me.)

The person I discovered in my search is the founder of A Good Idea. He and others who have joined him do random things that connect them with strangers in a way that is sometimes greeted with suspicion, sometimes with delight. (It’s San Francisco after all. People are ready to be surprised.) Volunteers may distribute fruit, cookies, hugs, or services.

“Jared Paul’s life changed after he chose meaning over money. He abandoned a successful six-figure sales career and started a nonprofit organization, A Good Idea, in the summer of 2008.

“ ‘In April of 2008, I went through a life transformation: The more money I made, the more stressed I became, the more my passions began to fade, and the more I stopped dreaming,’ says Paul, 33, who had flourished in a variety of sales positions for nearly 10 years.

“Amid dissatisfaction with his job and his personal life, Paul decided to dedicate himself to making a difference. So he reached out to people via Facebook and Craigslist and began an informal discussion group that met at the Red Vic Peace Café in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The meetings led to the birth of A Good Idea (AGI).

“ ‘A Good Idea is a vehicle for social change that connects people in need with people who want to help,’ explains Paul.

“ ‘One of our first events was called Intentional Acts of Kindness, where we would do acts of kindness to complete strangers,’ Paul recalls. ‘When the San Francisco Chronicle decided to do a news piece, we received over 250 e-mails from people who were inspired and wanted to be part of A Good Idea. That’s when things really took off.’ ” Read more.

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Suzanne knew that I blogged at work and asked me to do a blog for Luna & Stella, her birthstone jewelry company. She said I could write about anything that interested me, which is a good thing because as much as I love birthstone jewelry, it would be hard to say something new about it every day.

The things that interest me include the arts, the environment, my family, and people who try to make the world a better place. So I think I’ll start out by telling you about an organization that I learned of from Suzanne, The Homeless Prenatal Program, which is based in San Francisco. “HPP has three major goals: Healthy babies … safe and nurturing families where children thrive … and economically stable families.” I love that this organization is really preventing problems before they start. Check it out.

Blog comments should be sent to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com. I will post as many as possible.

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