Economic Development

Back on My Feet helps the homeless move forward, one step at a time

What he likes best about running? Finishing.

“The best part is when we’re all done and you feel that rush. You feel nice and relaxed. It does something to your body when you finish a run like that,” said Maurice. “It’s like medication, my favorite part is when I get my medicine.”

Maurice is a member at the Philadelphia chapter of non-profit organization Back On My Feet (BoMF). Founded in 2007 by Anne Mahlum, who started a running club for men at a shelter near her home, BoMF aims to empower those who are homeless through the power of running.

Across 12 cities in the U.S. including Chicago, New York City and its newest addition, San Francisco, members commit to 5:30 early morning runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Some have families and some are working on their high school equivalent diploma, but they’ve all got one thing in common: the desire to achieve new goals, one step at a time.

BoMF believes that running offers powerful lessons for life, teaching us that we have to run miles one through nine to get to 10. Recognizing that homelessness isolates individuals from the norms of everyday life and leaves them distanced from the people around them, the early morning runs with others affected by homelessness and volunteers who believe in the cause give members support and a sense of community.

 

Running gets members active and more conscious about their health, though the ultimate aim of BoMF is much more than that. Members with 90% attendance in their first month with BoMF, showing commitment to the program, move into its second phase: Next Steps. From then on, members are provided access to educational support, employment opportunities and housing resources, giving them the help they need to restart their lives.

In particular, BoMF’s employment program helps many of its members find work. Gaps in employment and a lack of critical workforce training are just some of the barriers that make it difficult for the homeless to find long-term, sustainable jobs. To make up for this, BoMF partners with companies across the country to provide training in areas including customer service, financial literacy and Microsoft Office. Members can also work to get qualifications such as food handling and forklift operator certifications.

Established organizations including Marriott Hotels, Macy’s department store and CVS pharmacy partner with BoMF, provide employment opportunities to members when qualified. BoMF continually invites business owners seeking hardworking and committed employees to contact them for potential partnership. With a regular job and a stable income, members find independence and new meaning in their lives.

Mark, also a member of the Philadelphia chapter, took part in the programs offered by BoMF, among them a forklift certification, Bank of America financial courses, AT&T technology training and an Accenture workshop in resume building and mock interviewing.

“I took advantage of all the classes because they all benefit me. I wanted everything that I could get out of Back on My Feet, that’s why I apply myself. I’m motivated and I’m trying to achieve my goals and what I want to do in my life right now, so I took advantage of the program and it’s working for me,” Mark explains.

 

BoMF recruits members at homeless and residential facilities around the country. Many of its members are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, some have spent time in jail, and they are in general at a low point in their lives. The discipline it takes to stick to an early morning regime three times a week encourages members to believe that the goals they set for themselves are within reach. Many find passion in the sport, doing training on their own and signing up for runs in their community.

Thanks to BoMF, Donna managed to kick a 28-year addiction of cocaine. The first time Donna joined a run, she thought she was too sick and old to do it. Members and volunteers recognized her struggle and motivated her to keep going. Her father’s passing turned into a hard battle against turning to drugs again, but she was determined not to let her new friends down. Donna pressed on, showing up at all her runs and doing her best. Her newfound confidence inspired her to set a goal to complete a 13.1-mile run, and she did it.

 

“That was the beginning of my life. I finally found a job working for Kirkbride Rehab Center, where I am very happy. This job keeps me grounded. It reminds me everyday where I came from and helps me not to go back.”

 

“I’m doing everything in life that I always wanted to do,” said Donna. 

Image Credits: Back on My Feet and Back on My Feet Philadelphia's Facebook Page

Second Chances

Janet here owns her own floristry business and sells a beautiful array of flowers. Little would anyone guess that, as a side fact, Janet is an ex-offender.

Janet’s flower shop stemmed from an interest which then later blossomed into a career, mind the puns, with the help of “Startup”. Based in the UK, the charity Startup offers what very few public systems do - a belief that prisoners, too, have great potential and can thrive as entrepreneurs in their own right. The work that Startup had done have significantly reduced recidivism by having ex-offenders turn towards entrepreneurialism as opposed to back towards a criminal system.

In an interview with the BBC, Juliet Hope, the founder of Startup, says “They [the prisoners] have faced that, come out, and want to turn their lives around.”  Juliet believes everyone deserves a second chance - we couldn’t agree more.

This concept isn’t limited to the UK, or Startup’s work. The LEAP (Ladies Empowerment Action Program) (Instagram handle: @leapforladies) in the US also works for a similar cause. Entrepreneurial skills are shared with prisoners, especially women, to encourage them to pursue their dreams - not just with the right tools but the right support.

We should never judge anyone based only on their past or background, as Juliet says, everyone deserves a chance and has potential to achieve. More on their work on their site

Image Credits: BBC

Flowers plant seeds in the lives of Australia’s migrant women

“For a a lot of women, flowers play an important role in their lives,” says Sophea Chea. “What I want them to feel is happiness and joy. I want to use flowers as a tool.”

Angkor Flowers and Crafts is a social enterprise based in Cabramatta, Sydney. Founded by Chea in 2014, the business employs women from migrant backgrounds who have low levels of education and have been raised with the belief that their sole purpose is to be a stay-at-home housewife.

Originally from Cambodia, Chea has seen many of her female family members being made to finish their education as soon as possible and the stigma associated with women promoting professional careers.

Many women who migrate to Australia are of similar backgrounds, and therefore have little work opportunities when they arrive. Chea hopes to help these women out: by teaching them how to create flower arrangements and liaise with clients, their confidence, language skills and employment prospects when they eventually want to find work elsewhere are increased.

When Angkor Flowers & Crafts began, it only worked with migrants from Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Thailand, but today women from as far as Peru, Iran and Chad are benefiting from their employment with the social enterprise.

The universal appeal of flowers and its ability to be a “positive emotion inducer”, according to research, has made a difference in the lives of these women whose needs are often marginalized by public policy.

Photo Credits to Angkor Flowers & Crafts  

NYC personal trainer empowers the disabled through strength

Tom Clement goes to the gym twice a week for an hour each time. He works primarily on upper body strength, emerging from the gym stronger with every session.

But Clement is not your average gym goer. To begin with, he’s well into his sixties; he’s also been in a wheelchair for most of his life since falling off a roof and severing his spinal cord. For the past 15 years, Clement has been a regular at Ned Norton’s Warriors on Wheels gym, a training facility catered to the most marginalized of communities in the world of fitness: people living with disabilities.

Named one of the CNN Top Heroes in 2014, Norton, 58, has been running non-profit organization Warriors on Wheels for over 20 years. Formerly a competitive power lifter, a three-time finisher of the NYC Marathon and a fitness trainer with 35 years of professional experience, Norton has found passion in bringing what he loves most ­– fitness – to the lives of those who otherwise never get to experience beating a personal best.

“I never worry about what they can’t do,” said Norton. “I worry about what they can do, and make them as independent and capable as possible.”

 

It all started when Norton was managing a gym and training athletes back in 1988. A football player he was training expressed concern for a friend who had been left paraplegic after an accident. He asked Norton if he could train him at the gym and help him recover not just physically, but also psychologically. Tailoring a program for his friend with the help of his doctor, Norton began training him and saw rapid progress in him within six months.

Now, Norton trains more than 120 people every week. His clients are affected by a wide range of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and vision impairment. The gym is located in Albany, New York, on the fourth floor of a public housing project high rise. The Albany Housing Authority donates the space to him so he doesn’t pay rent, and Norton’s side jobs, support from private donors as well as regularly held fundraising events help keep the project going. Some of the money goes towards the state’s transport authority, which provides STAR, or Special Transportation at Request, to arrange buses that bring people with disabilities to and from the Warriors on Wheels gym.

Norton charges a rate of $10 for 10 visits, but many of his clients subsist on welfare and disability payments, making the fee difficult to afford. In fact, just over 30 percent are able to pay. But Norton is happy to waive this fee, believing that everyone should have access to his training regardless of financial ability.

“If they can pay, fine, but I don’t really keep track of those who don’t,” Norton said. “Most of the people I work with are on very limited incomes.”

 

Clients at Warriors on Wheels use adaptive equipment that has been specially designed by Norton and his team to facilitate improvements in strength and conditioning. Traditional machines like the shoulder press and bench press have been modified, and the seats are cut off from multi-stations, which includes a pec deck, lat pull down cable and preacher curl, so that those in wheelchairs can use them too.

Jamal Burgess is autistic and has been coming to the Warriors on Wheels gym for over 15 years.

“The repetitive motion is good for him,” Norton said of his swift punches as his laced up boxing gloves hit the heavy bag.

“I love it here. I like to work out with Ned,” said Burgess.

Working out at Warriors on Wheels have led clients to see more than just an improvement in their physical health. Norton says many have gone on to find employment, drive again and pursue their interests without allowing their disabilities to get in the way.

 

Clement thanks Norton for helping him live a full life and increasing his ability to maintain the stamina of everyday work.

"The physical benefits are obvious. People have an easier time getting in and out of wheelchairs or opening heavy doors,” said Norton. “The psychological benefits are even more significant. There's a feeling of accomplishment, of self-confidence. The program makes people more independent."

Photos: CNN

 

 

Street Books library offers the homeless a different narrative

 

A bicycle pulls up on the streets of Portland, Oregon, a heavy cargo box in tow. Inside the box is a selection of novels: sci-fi, biographies and everything in between. Patrons walk up to the bike, browsing the titles with curiosity and checking one or two out. There’s no due date, they’re told, and no fines either.

This is the work of Laura Moulton’s project Street Books, a bicycle-powered mobile library for the homeless and those living on the margins. In the summer, Moulton and her team take to the city, making designated stops and bringing literature to a community whose circumstances forbid them from doing so themselves.

Moulton is an artist and a writing professor who firmly believes in the power of reading to help one escape a different reality, a relief that is much needed for those experiencing a difficult time in their lives.

“I think people come to the library for a variety of reasons, and part of it, I think, is being able to lose yourself in a book for the time,” said Moulton.

But without proper identification or a home address to give, the homeless are unable to obtain library cards at public libraries, making borrowing from them not an option. And this is where Street Books steps in.

 


Street Book was originally created as Moulton’s short-term project in the summer of 2011. At the outset, Moulton was skeptical about whether it would be well-received.

“It’s a bit of an audacious proposal to go out and say, yes, I know you’ve been sleeping on a piece of cardboard for three nights, but here’s a paperback book,” Moulton recalled thinking at the time.

But when asked by a patron in the final days of the initiative where Street Books would be next week, Moulton realized she had created something that actually had demand among the homeless community. 

Image:   Street Books

Five years later, Street Books has amassed a loyal group of patrons-turned-regular-readers. Some are former bookworms, excited to rekindle an old love, while some are just realizing a newfound passion.

“The power of a project like Street Books is that when the assumption is that these people outside are not intelligent, not capable of a range of feelings somehow, we show a different narrative,” said Moulton.


A regular patron of Street Book when it began, Ben Hodgson read about three books a week and probably over 50 just that summer.

“You’re sitting around with nothing to do but stare off into space, and it just makes it a lot more livable to have something to do as a leisure-time activity, said Hodgson.

Hodgson was homeless at the time and living on the streets of Portland. After three years outside, he was finally shortlisted for veterans housing. One day, he ran into Moulton, who was delivering books. Remembering his regular patronage and love of literature, Moulton offered him a job sorting through their book collection. Since then, Hodgson has been working as a Street Books’ librarian and inventory specialist. Moulton calls him an “invaluable asset” to the team.

Besides Moulton and Hodgson, Street Books consists a team of other street librarians, all of them avid readers and firm believes that literature should be accessible to all. They don’t just fulfill their librarian duties of handling checkouts and returns, but also encourage patrons to make requests for titles they don’t see. They take the effort to remember the names of their patrons, striking up conversation about thoughts on their most recent read and what books they’ll be digging into next.


“What I realized from Street Books is how similar we all are and how much we connect around reading and ideas,” said Diana Rempe, a Street Books librarian.


The homeless face enough discrimination in society as it is, and while Street Books isn’t offering them an income or a roof over their heads, it hopes its sharing of literature can relieve at least a little bit of that stigma. The project is especially valued in Portland, a city where literary culture runs deep. In fact, Portland’s county library has one of the highest circulation among public libraries in America.

Heather, a patron of Street Books, values books “like gold”.

“Homeless people are smart. We deserve this. We deserve to be able to read,” said Heather.

For more on Street Books and how to support this mobile library, check out their site!

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Image Credits: Street Books

Art-through-pods fights homelessness with art in Oak Park, California

Rapid gentrification in the neighborhood of Oak Park, California, has exacerbated the homelessness problem in the area, prompting residents Aimee Phelps and Kevin Greenberg to take action with their creative project, Art-through-Pods.

Concerned at the growing number of people sleeping outside on the conrete, Phelps, who is a local artist, decided to take action. With some tubing, plastic cardboard, wheels and a matress pad, all wrapped up in swirls and a striking shade of green, the Art-through-Pods project began.

“The idea is that we can build these pods so people aren’t sleeping on the sidewalk and sleeping on the street, but we also cover them with art,” said Greenberg. “So instead of just leaving them with shopping carts and blue tarps in the alley, you’re looking at this.”

Greenberg, a welder, modified Aimee’s initial pod designs, changing its shape to be small enough to fit on a sidewalk, in a parking spot and down a bike lane, but big enough for two adults. He also added welded steel, plywood and switched out bicycle wheels for wheelchair parts for a sturdier structure.

Each pod has a customized design: one is emblazoned with a replica of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, and another is lavender with delicate orchid patterns.

The pair’s project has gained much attention in the local community. Phelps receives letters on her porch from people requesting for pods, and people come up to her asking how they can get on the list.

While these creative pods don’t provide a means for permanent housing, they are offering the homeless a place to store their belongings in the day and a shelter to sleep in at night. They’re also showing them that their plights aren’t going unheard in the community.

"I can't even explain how happy it makes us to go out and give these pods away to people who need it and deserve it and shouldn't be sleeping in alcoves and forgotten," said Phelps.

Humans of New York ensure no one dines alone this Christmas

 

For the fourth year in a row, photojournalist project Humans of New York is doing its part to make sure everybody has a good Christmas, even if they may not have friends or family to celebrate with.

“Every holiday season we try to connect people in New York City who would like to share a holiday meal. Why? Because nothing is worse than being alone on Christmas or Hanukkah,” a post on Humans of New York’s Instagram reads.

The tradition, titled HONY for the Holidays, invites anyone with interest to send an email to HONY as a guest or a host; guests might have circumstances that force them to be alone this holiday season, and hosts might have extra room at the dinner table to feed a couple more mouths.

To facilitate good conversation over a hearty meal, HONY asks that guests and hosts share a little bit about themselves so that they can be aptly paired up. Practical concerns such as location and dietary restrictions are also factored in, and everyone is screened before matches are made.

Founder of Humans of New York Brandon Stanton understands the frustration of being on your own when everybody else in the world seems to be reuniting with loved ones. In an Instagram post two years ago when the initiative was being held for the second time, he recounted spending his first Christmas Eve in New York at a 24-hour diner, with no money to fly home.

Between colorful portraits of everyday New Yorkers and articulating their stories to millions of followers, Humans of New York continues to inspire with this wonderful project that seeks to promote solace and the spirit of giving back in a fast-paced city.

Free app ‘Refugeye’ helps refugees break down language barriers and focus on getting the help they need

When refugees arrive in a host country, the language barrier make it difficult for them to articulate their circumstances to NGOs and social service groups. The process of getting the help they need is thus long and hard, coupled with the frustration that they aren’t being understood.

With this in mind, Design & Human created Refugeye, an app to facilitate better communication and understanding between refugees and the people of their host country.

The free app offers over 150 icons, each one unique and simple. General icons include the logo for UNHCR (United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees), a passport and a house. More specific ones, for example a figure holding out his wrists to another indicates arrest and a figure carrying a bindle to represents homelessness, can help refugees get their stories across precisely.

Users can also use the pen tool to draw on the icons themselves, their screen essentially becoming a canvas for them to illustrate what they would otherwise have a hard time trying to get across. Illustrations can be saved as images to be used in future.

Refugeye is indeed a simple and creative solution for refugees; with the app, they can focus on getting the help they need so they can settle down in their host country as quickly as possible instead of worrying about being misunderstood.

Modest Needs [Charity Shout-out!]

Having to deal with unemployment, pay off medical bills from an injured back and take care of her sick mother all seemed to come at once for Sherry, who was fighting hard to stay on her feet as it was.


 

Little payments here and there only made things worse, but the help she got from Modest Needs, an organization that offers small grants to those who are struggling financially, made a world of difference.

“It took a load off me,” said Sherry.


 

Founded in 2002, organization encourages those who are having trouble with a specific payment – whether it’s this month’s rent or a sudden medical bill – to apply for short-term financial assistance. These individuals live just above the poverty line and are therefore ineligible for conventional social assistance, so launching an application to Modest Needs is one way for them to get the help they need.


 

Modest Needs understands that crises can happen to anyone at anytime. The idea is that this type of financial assistance, though small, can prevent at-risk individuals from falling into poverty. Those who are helped and who are able to financially secure themselves sometime down the road are encouraged to donate, funding a cycle of giving.

More on Sherry's Story here.