The Faine House; A Project of Hope for Central Florida Youth


This year in Central Florida, an estimated 400 teenagers in foster care will turn 18, while the state ends its assistance. Without help and guidance many of these kids will face a lifetime of dependency; welfare, jail, and homelessness.

The Faine House, in conjunction with Children’s Home Society of Florida, exists to combat these problems.

Our story above explains why they do what they do, how they do it, and how everyone benefits.

To get involved or learn more about The Faine House click here:

#HashtagLunchbag Movement Helps Feed Homeless Worldwide

Hashtag Lunchbag, is a nonprofit started by a group of friends who wanted to Just DO Something…Anything! to feed the homeless.  What began as a few brown-bag lunches for those living on Skid Row in LA, has now become a movement – spreading to over 100 cities on five continents.

Follow #HashtagLunchbag on line and help make a difference!

“Small actions X Lots of People = BIG CHANGE”

As Downtown LA Grows, So Does Urgency To Fix Skid Row


From NPR: by  and 

In Los Angeles, more than thousand people sleep on the street in cardboard boxes and tents — just a mile away from City Hall.

This is Skid Row, and compared to the affluent downtown areas that practically surround it, the area is like a different planet. Fifty blocks of sidewalk are jammed with people who live on the street, with all of their worldly possessions crammed into shopping carts and crates.

In the hot midday Southern California sun, the place stinks of urine, human excrement and garbage. Last year, there was a major outbreak of tuberculosis.

A lot of people want to fix Skid Row, but how it’s done is extremely controversial. And as downtown Los Angeles develops, it’s a problem that’s become more and more urgent.

Leah, who didn’t want to give her last name, sells cigarettes along Skid Row. She says she’s seen some changes lately.

“The cops are starting to crack down more, I guess ’cause they want to clean up down here to make it better for people to live,” she says. “But this is Skid Row; it’s always going to be Skid Row.”

But a lot of people — including some with very deep pockets — disagree.

At a recent discussion last month about the future of Skid Row, developer Tom Gilmore said that people need to deal with the fact that downtown is going to continue to develop.

“There will be development in Skid Row. There will be,” Gilmore said.

He says development doesn’t mean reducing services for the homeless, but some disagree; they believe that development will simply force out the people who live on Skid Row. Long-time activists say that there is a real danger that growth in the area will simply ignore the needs of the thousands living in poverty.

But new residents and businesses say they want to play a role in improving Skid Row.

Blair Besten, the executive director of the Historic Core Business Improvement District, helped organize the panel discussion where Gilmore spoke. The business improvement district collects taxes from local property owners, and that money pays for street cleanups and private security patrols.

Besten says the homeless people on Skid Row used to be easier for the city to ignore, but with more people moving downtown, that’s changing.

“A sense of shame is really motivating people now to finally address this issue, because it’s so apparent in the streets everywhere you look,” Besten says.

‘We Need Compassionate People’

On a recent morning, the lobby of the Union Rescue Mission is packed. They have been working on Skid Row for decades.

The Mission feels like a cross between an apartment building and a secure court facility. It provides shelter for about 800 people, split among private rooms and dorms.

The Mission also provides substance abuse counseling and other services. It’s a Christian charity, though non-Christians and non-believers are welcome here. Shelters like the Union Rescue Mission continue to fill up with people in need.

“What I describe Skid Row as is the biggest man-made disaster in the United States,” says the Rev. Andy Bales, who runs the Mission and has worked on Skid Row for almost 10 years.

Bales says things had been improving on Skid Row, but they’ve taken a bad turn since the recession. He says hospitals from the region, and even other states, have been dumping homeless patients on Skid Row illegally, and that jails are releasing inmates without enough preparation. Resources have also been reduced for shelters in favor of other approaches.

Bales says fear had once left Skid Row — but now it’s back.

“[There’s] violence every day; across the street there’s crack cocaine sales,” he says. “And by the self-cleaning restroom on the corner down here, they’re selling heroin. Take that times 49 blocks: That’s what Skid Row is.”

Bales says the answer for this is decentralizing services, and that ideally people should receive treatment and help in their own communities. But he says it can be difficult to convince neighborhoods to accept new homeless shelters, affordable housing or treatment facilities.

“We are often market-driven instead of compassion-driven,” he says. “Of course we need investors, we need all of that, but we need compassionate people who care about the people [who] are potentially displaced. We need to make sure there’s a place for them to go and that place is not just on the sidewalk or a bush in another neighborhood.”

Permanent Supportive Housing

Another source of shelter for some of Los Angeles’ chronically homeless had its grand opening earlier this month: the Star Apartments on Skid Row. The building, developed by the non-profit Skid Row Housing Trust, is beautiful, modern and bright. There are more than 100 apartments where the homeless can stay permanently, turn their lives around and get easy access to a health clinic and other services on-site.

Jude Burns is one of the residents at the Star Apartments. He is only 44 years old, but uses a cane that he says helps him walk through the pain in his spine and feet.

“Sometimes it’s so bad, I can’t even get out of bed,” Burns says. “But then I have good days and bad days. Today’s one of the good days.”

Burns moved in about a year ago. He and the other residents were allowed to settle in before the recent grand opening. But he didn’t always need this type of help.

Burns moved to L.A. a few years back to be closer to his 14-year-old son. He had been diagnosed with diabetes, but he says he had it under control. Then on New Year’s Eve 2011, his son was shot and killed in South LA, an apparently random murder. It sent Burns into a deep depression.

“After my son’s death, my health just started going completely downhill,” he says.

The diabetes got worse; he got pancreatitis, and then came the complications. He needed two surgeries. For a while he bounced around between the couches of friends and hospitals.

“I would say I was in the emergency room at least once every two months,” he says.

After one of his surgeries, his luck changed. A hospital social worker linked Burns up with temporary housing through Lamp Community on Skid Row, and they told him about the Star Apartments.

“Now I got my own place, and my own keys. And man, I’m happy about that. Thankful,” he says.

Burns says it was the first time in three years he had his own stove, his own refrigerator and his own bathroom. And most importantly, Burns doesn’t have to drag himself to the emergency room to see a doctor or a social worker, since there are case-workers onsite downstairs, alongside a health clinic that’s opening with staff doctors and nurses.

“Everything is right here,” Burns says.

This model of ending homelessness is called “permanent supportive housing.” The idea is that the best way to tackle homelessness, as well as handle all the chronic health and mental health problems, is to get people housed first and then work on the other issues — issues which can seem extremely challenging.

“Many people would consider the folks that we’re housing un-housable,” says Marc Trotz, who runs LA County’s Housing For Health program. “They’re too sick, they’re too disruptive, they’re too drug-addicted. And our philosophy is to just flip that around.”

Trotz’s program is helping run the Star Apartments, and they have actually moved staff inside the building. He says that they know a home doesn’t miraculously cure mental illness or long-term substance abuse issues, but that it’s almost impossible to address those issues when someone is homeless.

He calls Skid Row a “health disaster zone,” where the population is stuck in a cycle that revolves from the street to hospitals, jails, maybe treatment centers or shelters — and then back to the street.

“[You] can do that for 5, 10, 15 years and just steadily decline in health and die, essentially,” he says.

Trotz and the county want to break that cycle by creating buildings like the Star Apartments throughout Los Angeles County. According to Trotz they’ve created 700 units in the county so far, with a goal of 10,000 by 2018.

Dennis Culhane, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania, says experience has shown that permanent supportive housing works.

“The research is very robust. It shows that about 85 percent of the people who are placed in this housing remain there one year later,” Culhane says. “Even among the people who exit, many of them are exiting to other planned arrangements. Only a few percentage is actually returning to homelessness.”

Culhane says these programs frequently save government money, too, by reducing ER visits and time in jail.

Some shelters worry that the focus on permanent supportive housing will shortchange emergency services for the majority of the homeless. And at its current rate, the county is well behind schedule on meeting its goal of creating 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing.

But Star Apartments resident Jude Burns has one word for his unit: “A blessing.”

A Wider Circle: JDSA-ing Their Way To End Poverty

While searching for folks who Just DO Something to make a difference, we came across A Wider Circle.  Its founder, Mark Bergel, was just named a 2014 CNN Hero.  Mark and his team are on a mission to end poverty…and just how, exactly, they’re doing that will astound you!  We’ll let them tell you who they are, what they do, and how they’re JDSA-ing their way to make a difference!  

Hundreds of thousands of mothers watching their children go to sleep each night in beds rather than on the floor. Children picking out their school clothes each morning from dressers rather than plastic garbage bags. Low-income, pregnant adolescents receiving the care-taking skills needed to raise healthy babies. Recently-homeless parents learning – and putting into practice – the basic life skills needed to obtain and maintain employment. Children and adults having the dignity and opportunity that everyone deserves.

This is why we are here, to create what is possible. The mission of A Wider Circle™ is to end poverty. We work in partnership with those we serve and with other agents of change to ensure that every child and adult has the opportunity to realize their potential and the support they need to rise out of poverty. A Wider Circle’s holistic approach focuses on the following three areas: 1. The provision of basic need items; 2. Comprehensive education and job preparedness support; and 3. Creating connections for long-term support. These three components work in concert to create lasting change in the lives of those we serve.
Who We Are
A Wider Circle says no to nobody! Anyone in need of help can find it here. In addition to all of the individuals and families that call us, more than 300 social service agencies regularly contact us for help in serving their clients.

In 2013 alone, A Wider Circle furnished the homes of more than 17,000 children and adults and delivered more than 400 educational programs. We also recycled more than 3,000,000 pounds of furniture and home goods – collecting these items from those who had more than they needed and distributing them free of charge to those who had nothing. More than 10,000 volunteers came to serve at A Wider Circle in 2013.

A Wider Circle has twice been named “one of the best” charities by the Catalogue for Philanthropy. The organization has also received the Washington Area Women’s Foundation Leadership Award. Its founder, Dr. Mark Bergel, has received the Dr. Augustus White III Award for Civic Engagement and Service, the Greater DC CaresEssence of Leadership Award, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region’s Linowes Leadership Award, and the Andrea Jolly President’s Award from the Montgomery County Corporate Volunteer Council. In 2010, Dr. Bergel was also chosen as one of People Magazine and Major League Baseball’s “All Stars Among Us.”

A Wider Circle has also been honored to have the Examiner describe the organization as “an all-inclusive reservoir of support for those in need… an example of the grassroots movement at its best.

Pathways Drop-In Center: Making a Difference for Orlando’s Homeless

We stumbled across this video for Pathways Drop-In Center in Orlando, Florida. It’s more of a collection of stories, really…stories that follow some of Orlando’s homeless and mentally ill as they try surviving life on the street and in the woods.

Pathways is making a difference – changing the world. Offering what they call, a “Haven of Hope” to those who need their help. It’s comprised of local volunteers and community leaders who come together to help the homeless and support the Drop-in Center.

Songwriter and musician, Matt Shenk performs his song, “A Little More” which is inspired by the plight of Orlando’s homeless. And Rob Lamp of produced the video.

Visit for more videos and information.

Feeding The Body, Mind and Spirit To Central Florida Homeless


Every Sunday, sandwiched between a cluster of churches and office buildings in downtown Orlando – in the stillness of the predawn hours, a volunteer mecca is buzzing with activity.  

Inside the kitchen of First Presbyterian of Orlando, the small army of bees are busy.  Half a dozen cooks are flipping pancakes, slicing potatoes and mixing oatmeal.  In the back, pots and pans are being scrubbed, while buckets of coffee are being brewed at breakneck speed.  Just outside the kitchen, in the Gathering Hall, tables are rolling towards their spot.  When they hit their mark, legs are popped into position and blue folded chairs are flipped open and shoved into place.  In rapid fire succession, the process is repeated.  “Pop! Pop! Pop!”  The banging and clanging of the choreography fills the room.  The clock is running.  

Behind them, amidst a mountain of cables and audio boards, three people organize songs and videos, prepping a program for an audience about to arrive.    

Time check:  5:43am.     

Outside the building the audience is gathering.  The crowd now forms a line, twisting its way underneath a wooden canopy and stretching over a hundred feet.  In the darkness it could be a queue for any concert, sporting event, or night club.  But this group isn’t here for a show.  And there’s no admission price.  Their tired eyes glance at me and I look at back at their weary faces. It’s my introduction to this group – nearly 300 of Central Florida’s homeless.  They’re here for a meal served with hope.   

Just behind the doors of the Gathering Hall, Michael Starnes, a long time volunteer organizes a prayer circle.  “This is a ‘high dignity’ environment,” he says.  It’s no accident the breakfast they’re preparing this morning isn’t being distributed at them.  Instead, it’s being served to them.  Served at tables intentionally set for eight, with styrofoam cups and utensils carefully wrapped in paper napkins.  Dignity, indeed!  

“Last night we all slept in a bed,” Michael continued.  “And today, we’ll go back to a home with a roof over our heads.  But those we serve today have none of that.”  It is a stark reminder of what I take for granted each day.  And a ‘call to notice’ what I’d be witnessing when the doors open. 

“Ok.  Everyone ready?” Michael asks those behind him.  “Yes!”, they reply in unison.  “Let’s go!”   

It’s now 6:30am.

As the doors swing open, people ranging from two to eighty-two are quickly seated.  But the rush and energy is focused.  Those who’ve been here before know the routine: some empty cups are already raised in the air, signaling the desire for hot coffee.  Volunteers enter the room with full pitchers, while a Chris Tomlin music video blasts, How Great is Our God on the big screen.  Everything is orderly and respectful.

Behind me is a growing sea of backpacks, bags, and personal belongings all neatly stacked in a straight line against the back wall.  I watch each homeless person come in, drop off their bundle, and find a place to sit.  Everything they own in life is in those bags.  And I find it surprising they’re willing to leave it unattended.  But that’s the kind of place this seems to be.      

The people I’m looking at are tired.  Not just tired of being homeless, but tired of being treated as if they’re invisible and don’t matter.  But here they’re valued.  They’re recognized for their worth.  They’re treated as guests.  

But it’s not just those who live on the streets who have stories to tell.  All the volunteers I’ve met have stories of their own.  There’s Ernie, a tall, slim man who once played football for the Philadelphia Eagles, now volunteering his time as a driver.  He helped dozens of people get here this morning.  And Allen from Kenya, who once was homeless himself, is also here to work.  His neatly pressed blue buttoned-down shirt, black slacks and polished shoes with tassels, are symbolic of how far he’s come since he was on the other side of the receiving line.  And a youth group from Johnson City, Tennessee, decided to spend the week in Orlando to help out wherever they saw a need.  This morning they were needed here to help with the capacity crowd.  

Despite the number of volunteers, the homeless still outnumber them almost 10 to 1.  


Joe Mills, this morning’s keynote speaker, takes the stage with a message.  “Trust…step forward,” he says.  “Step forward and just DO something!  Every little bit counts…”  While the room may have been listening, I heard his message directly.  Use what I have for the benefit of others, whether big or small.  Instead of talking about doing things – go do it!  We’re all called to serve no matter where we find ourselves in life.  Each of us has the ability to respond.  “Just DO Something,” he kept saying.  The irony not lost on me.  


Breakfast is over and the homeless are heading back onto the streets.  Inside, the volunteers are clearing tables, realigning chairs, and setting the room up for the Sunday services to come.    

For those homeless I met, this breakfast may be the only meal they’ll have today.  This is especially heartbreaking for those too young to understand why.   

Driving away I saw a man with a rolled up mat.  Finding a patch of tall grass beneath the shade of an adjacent building, he unfurled his mat and stretched out.  Using his backpack for a pillow, he was in a spot he’d, most likely, been in before.  While this group of volunteers couldn’t solve all their problems or alleviate all their suffering, they chose to step forward. They chose to DO something…anything!  And that was surely something!  




From Homeless to Hopeful

William Andrews used to run political campaigns. He used to have money. He used to have…things. But his wealth, success, and multiple degrees couldn’t protect him from a life of drug addiction. He lost it all. Eventually, finding himself again while living in the Men’s Pavilion at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. Today, he’s a Pastor – leading a congregation at Orlando’s Heart of Mercy Community Church of the Nazarene. He’s also a Board Member at the Coalition.

We met Pastor Andrews at the groundbreaking of the new 33,000 square foot Men’s Service Center currently under construction at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

“Never in my wildest dreams while lying on the floor over there at the pavilion did I think one day I would be standing here,” he said. “When I came to the coalition, there were these two men… case workers … and every day they got on my last nerve. Every day I stumbled through their gates addicted, but every day they kept telling me that I could make it. Every day they poured words of encouragement on me.”

Here is – in his own words – Pastor Andrews’ inspirational story of hope.

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