By Jake Luplow
I Photoshopped a homeless man in my mind. I dressed him in a black Armani suit. I placed a Baume & Mercier watch upon his wrist. I waxed his eyebrows, just slightly. I gave a nice dark black hue to his otherwise graying hair. And I finished him off with a pair of Stefano Bemer shoes. “Why would you do such a thing?” you ask, perhaps over coffee. And I tell you, “I did it so that I wouldn’t feel bad as I drove off to waste money on a hair appointment–a hair appointment only promising to mask my insecurities for one month.”
I do this often. I turn the other way. But things changed on May 23 when I found myself in a living room type setting at one of Thurston County’s own homeless rehabilitation organizations. There were homeless people who sat on the couches with smiles beaming on their faces. They held a natural glow. And my job, as a writer, was to figure out why. I suppose that is what this is about: What reason do these clients have for feeling so hopeful–clients whose lives have been torn apart by the streets?
SideWalk is a volunteer driven advocacy and support center for homeless adults. Phil Owens, Program Director, has spent many years volunteering at Bread and Roses. In accordance with Interfaith Works in Olympia, Phil found himself troubled by the growing problem of homelessness in our own back yard. So, Phil approached the director of Interfaith with his idea (which would become Sidewalk).
The director was interested and passionate about the idea, so they put together a planning committee and drew up a plan, applied for the funding, and they opened their doors in October of 2011. The first group of volunteers decided to walk side by side with the homeless until they found a home. So, Emma Margraf, director of community outreach, had suggested the name SideWalk for their organization.
Emma explained that they are in the midst of a massive campaign in which they aim to get 100 clients into housing by the year’s end. So far, they have managed to find housing for 50 clients. She attributed their successful efforts to not only their hardworking volunteers, but also to the Rapid Rehousing strategy they use.
According to Homeward, “As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan of 2009, Congress and President Obama included funds for homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing activities. These funds have become known as the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP). These funds are designed to assist people who are at risk of becoming homeless and/or persons currently experiencing homelessness who can be returned to housing quickly.”
Emma said, “There are some cities reducing homelessness by as much as 50% just using Rapid Rehousing. Our volunteers are amazing people. They love the work that they do. And we are going to keep going until we achieve our goal–to end homelessness.”
At SideWalk, the Team welcomes their clients with open arms. They embrace them. They feed them. They work with them. And they love them!
While there, I spoke with one of the volunteer advocates, a very sweet woman named Julia Moore. She told me she was working with a young lady once who was extremely distrustful of social service agencies. “I began working with her and I asked her to fill out some paperwork and she just blew up. I sat there and just listened to her. It dawned on me that she had lumped me in with a lot of the paid helpers who were a part of other agencies. And so I said, ‘Did you know that I am a volunteer?’ And that just stopped her. She put the brakes on. She realized then that I was truly there to help. She is now in housing and has benefited from it. And that is why I love doing this. I love being able to see that I am not wasting time, that I am doing this and it is having a real impact upon real people’s lives.”
On May 31, SideWalk will be holding a fundraiser and Art-Door auction, called “My Front Door,” at the Schoenfeld Building (corner of 4th and Capitol in downtown Olympia). Local artists are painting, carving, spray-painting and adorning doors as an annual fundraiser to support SideWalk’s commitment to end homelessness. If you’d like to participate, or if you’d like more information about SideWalk, please visit our events calendar.
I’ll leave you with this: beneath the raggedy clothes that smell of must and rust, and beneath the crooked teeth and holey shoes, there exists a woman or man no different than me or you. There exists someone only needing one shot. There exists a person waiting to be embraced with love and compassion, and SideWalk is doing just that.