By Bev Fitzpatrick
Can you imagine not having a roof over your head, or a bed to sleep on, a shower or a way to cook a hot meal? For many homeless individuals these things don’t exist. However, Wings Fresno has found ways to help provide household items for newly housed homeless individuals—helping them begin a new life with dignity.
Our furnishings program began in December 2014. Two Wings leaders went to visit a “housed” client on a cold December day. The client had moved into an apartment a month before, but she was still sleeping on the floor and heating water in a can on her stove!
Immediately, we saw another way that Wings volunteers could help. We started asking for donations of gently used furniture, kitchen supplies, sheets, towels and items for a Welcome Box including cleaning supplies (one can’t buy soap or toilet paper with EBT). With generous donations, Wings Fresno has also purchased refurbished mattresses so every housed individual that Wings help has a new bed.
Since January 2015, Wings has provided furnishings for 75 households. That is the reality, 75 homeless individuals, couples or families in Fresno housed. And we are not done yet. Every week, agencies are matching individuals with housing, finding landlords to work with and referring clients to Wings for furnishings. WestCare has stepped up once a week, with a truck, a driver and a person with muscle to help on Moving Day. They are a true gift to the Wings effort.
Wings Fresno was started two years ago by a group of homeless advocates from various churches who wanted to leverage their support. Through the leadership and coordination of Wings Santa Cruz, the Fresno team didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We learned a great deal from a two-day training in Santa Cruz, then took what we learned and made our program fit the needs of our community.
Many in the leadership group are members of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care (FMCOC) representing their faith community’s homeless outreach. Wings Fresno is now also a member. Because of the established relationship with the FMCOC, the Wings Fresno leadership was able to consult with a representative from both Fresno County Social Services and the Fresno Housing Authority as we were developing our program. Their input was helpful. However, just as we were ready to launch our first training for volunteers and assign two Wings volunteers to work with a client (a homeless individual who had received housing), everything changed. Well, not everything.
Wings Fresno was asked (the only volunteer organization that was) to participate in the 25 Cities Initiative, a national program tasked with ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015/2016. With acknowledgment of those unrealistic expectations, the leadership of Wings Fresno agreed to work with multiple agencies in the 25 Cities effort to house as many homeless veterans and chronic homeless as possible.
A coordinated effort seemed to make sense. Wings representatives were soon on the various 25 Cities committees. It wasn’t long before they found a way Wings could begin to help—we could provide money for documentation.
Many homeless individuals have lost their important documents and don’t have the money to replace them, even if an ID is only $8 with a voucher (which agencies can provide). Through a donation and funds raised, Wings was able to provide California IDs and birth certificates—two of the documents needed to acquire housing.
Wings leadership coordinates with the 25 Cities Outreach Program and provides volunteers once a week to be at the DMV and until July also at the Hall of Records to assist homeless individuals getting their documents and paying for them. Beginning in July 2015, all homeless in California can receive a free birth certificate with a signed waiver from their case manager.
Wings Fresno is proud that as of the end of October 2015 it had paid for170 California IDs and120 California birth certificates.
This is where you, the reader, come in; for donations to the Furnishings Program, contact Bev Fitzpatrick at email@example.com or 559- 355-9717. We will arrange to pick up your items or you can deliver them to our warehouse on Tuesdays or Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon. Because of the generosity of some Wings volunteers, Jayne and her husband Scott, we have warehouse space downtown. Our door is on Amador near the corner of Amador and Broadway.
Please remember Wings Fresno, and help us spread the word about donations. Or call our administrator, Marianne LeCompte, at 559-285- 1833 about training and become a Wings Fresno volunteer and help us end homelessness one person at a time.
Bev Fitzpatrick is a retired teacher, community activist and homeless advocate; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.