Friday, October 9, 2015

Off the Streets

Last weekend my wife and I attended a fund-raising dinner at our local church in Fairfield, CT. The dinner was not to raise funds for the church but for a small organization called “Off the Streets” that was formed a few years ago in Connecticut to deal with the “homeless”. “Off the Streets”, was created by a deacon of the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, and one of the deacons in our own parish founded the local Bridgeport, Fairfield, Trumbull chapter.

Information provided by “Off the Streets” shows some surprising figures about the homeless. Families with children make up 36% of the homeless population. Single men make up 44% while single women make up 13%.  Unaccompanied minors make up the remaining 7%. Surprisingly, 44% of the homeless population did paid work in the past month but for one reason or another they still live in shelters, their cars, or on the streets.

In many cases the homeless only lack the funds to provide a security deposit for an apartment rental, and furnish the apartment. The goal of “Off the Streets” is to provide the up-front costs needed for an apartment. Their brochure states their very basic goal.

The mission of Off the Streets  (OTS) is to provide a security deposit and basic furniture and living needs for those homeless people who have no other means of providing these, but do have a means of paying a monthly rent.

Although it works with local social service agencies to find and screen candidates, OTS does not rely on national, state, or local government funds. It is a 501c3 charity that relies totally on voluntary staff. It has no paid staff and operates on a minimal overhead of $20 per month, a startling contrast to many so-called charitable organizations where overhead can take up almost 90% of revenues.

I am impressed by the fact that Catholic deacons have taken the leading role in providing for the needs of the homeless. In the Acts of the Apostles we find that deacons played a very important role in the very beginning of the Church. When the Apostles found it difficult to tend to the physical needs of the members of the early church, they decided to appoint deacons to assist in the care of the needy. But over the centuries the deaconate became just a kind of temporary step in the process of ordaining a priest. However, after the Second Vatican Council the Church created the permanent diaconate as a way for the laity to take a more important role.

In its brief existence, “Off the Streets” has succeeded in providing almost 1000 homeless individuals and families with a place to live. It has a devoted group of volunteers who work year round. In its pamphlet OTS explained how it helps.

*OTS generally pays security deposits and other upfront costs.
*OTS’ process can usually provide a fully furnished apartment in as little as two to fourteen days.
*OTS provides basic household goods (furniture, bedding, etc.) to help give our clients a fresh start.
*A bus ticket can get a homeless person off the streets when family from out of town are willing to take in the person.

The Off the Streets website provides much more information of what it does and on the ways others can help.


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