“I believe nobody should be homeless.” Charlene Dickerson’s credo was the rallying cry for Saturday’s Walking Home: A Benefit for The Family Place.
Dickerson’s challenge was, in concrete terms, helping 1,500 homeless people off of St. Paul’s streets and into permanent homes and stable jobs. The Family Place’s mission is precisely that. They also ensure homeless children attend school every day by serving as the neighborhood bus stop.
“Walking Home” was the organization’s first benefit walk, with a fundraising goal of $10,000. More than seventy registrants arrived at The Family Place’s 10th Avenue office in St. Paul at noon on Saturday, sneakers tied and water bottles filled.
The 2.4-mile route through downtown St. Paul was punctuated by half a dozen stops at health clinics, public housing units and government agencies.
Volunteers from the Ramsey County Public Health Center told walkers that their clinic provides free immunizations for school age children as well as TB treatment for those without insurance and the underinsured.
At another stop, walkers listened to the Saint Paul Public Housing Authority explain Section 8 vouchers and public housing eligibility requirements.
St. Paul resident DeAunn Putman joined several of her fellow church members for the walk. Her church is one of several area churches that convert into shelters a couple months out of the year. “I just thought it would be nice to see all the agencies helping these people out,” Putman said.
Raising the profile of homelessness was the goal of many walkers. The Family Place volunteer Irna Landrum reminded people, “We’re all two paychecks away from being homeless and not all of us have the family support to take us in.”
For Patty Byrne Pfalz, who has been involved with the Twin Cities non-profit community for nearly 25 years, the greatest travesty is that, “the homeless are faceless.”
The Family Place executive director, Margaret Lovejoy, countered that the homeless do have faces. “The face of the homeless is the face of this child,” Lovejoy said, pointing to a participant’s infant nearby. “People think only single men are homeless. There are so many homeless mothers and children out there that no one ever sees.”
Sixty percent of The Family Place’s clientele is under the age of 18 and in 2008 the center served more than 400 families.
Elen Bahr, The Family Place’s communications director, ended the walk with good news: the combined efforts of Walking Home and Northland Securities employee donations raised nearly $20,000. “Bigger and better next year,” Bahr promised.
Michael Arnst (email email@example.com) is a Twin Cities resident, and a student at the Johns Hopkins University, majoring in International Studies with a focus on Africa. He is interested in everything dealing with social justice, both here and abroad.
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