At a recent forum on homelessness, Sacramento’s Loaves and Fishes reviewed their survival services and discussed permanent solutions to homelessness in Sacramento and beyond.
Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit that has been providing shelter, food and resources to Sacramento’s homeless since 1983, takes no government funding. This allows them to advocate for those in need without a political agenda, but also puts them in a place of relying on community support for funding.
The organization aims to set aside blame and judgment as they aid the homeless through twelve programs offering a variety of services. The Dining Room provides meals seven days a week, while Maryhouse, Friendship Park and Wash House offers guests shelter and facilities.
“Many people are scared looking from the outside in, but once you’re inside Friendship Park, all you feel is love,” said Frank Topping, a former Loaves and Fishes guest who now acts as an advocate for the homeless and disabled.
Loaves and Fishes also offers advocacy for guests who are looking for survival services and affordable housing.
While Loaves and Fishes serves over seven hundred homeless men, women and children a day, they are only able to provide a fraction of the help that is needed from Sacramento’s homeless community.
“The problem is supply and demand,” said Joan Burke, Loaves and Fishes Director of Advocacy. “We don’t have enough programs for everyone that could benefit.”
Loaves and Fishes is now part of a movement of professionals who believe the solution to homelessness requires not only survival services, but a change in way of thought.
“The old school way of looking at homelessness was to address the root causes in order to help individuals,” Burke said. “We realized collectively that if you just house them… that ends the homelessness.”
Housing is an approach that offers homeless families and individuals permanent, affordable housing, followed by other services as needed. Rapid re-housing programs emphasize an effort to transfer the homeless into permanent housing as quickly as possible. The programs are time limited, usually supplying a deposit and the first few months rent. Some programs also provide life services after individuals are re-housed.
After the recession hit, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was passed, which spurred a rapid re-housing program.
“We did it on a very large scale in Sacramento, with a great deal of success,” said Burke.
Loaves and Fishes works with Volunteers of America, the Department of Human Assistance and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency to provide re-housing and survival services to those in need. With so many individuals left on the streets, the real challenge is generating funding for these programs.
As a supporter of rehousing programs, Burke recently testified at the State Capitol in favor of the California Homes and Jobs Act, which would provide funding for re-housing.
Loaves and Fishes strives to offer a variety of other programs as well. Genesis, a mental health program, provides professional counseling. Mustard Seed School is a private school for homeless children ages three to fifteen that aims to prepare students to reenter the public school system.
“We hope that no child is school-less, just because they are homeless,” said Angela Hassell, Director of Mustard Seed School.
After former Loaves and Fishes guest, Liana Luna, enrolled her daughter in Mustard Seed School, she was offered a job working at the front desk.
“I was in the program for a very long time. I was sharing my story and they were listening,” said Luna, who now works as Outreach Coordinator for Mustard Seed School.
The staff and volunteers at Loaves and Fishes look forward to a time when their services are no longer needed. Until that day comes, their doors remain open.
Photo by Bryon, CC/Flickr