A local nonprofit is looking beyond shelters to help find a solution for the homeless, and also to raise awareness about homelessness in Boston through public outreach.
Founded in 1987, Friends of Boston’s Homeless is an organization that supports innovative efforts to establish independence for the city’s less fortunate. Although it supports Boston’s emergency shelters, the group focuses primarily on programs that help over 400 homeless men and women each year move successfully back into the community and maintain a stable lifestyle.
“It is a much-needed hand up instead of a hand out,” said Jamie O’Neal O’Loughlin, the development coordinator and special events director for Friends of Boston’s Homeless.
Friends of Boston’s Homeless aims to bring public funding to the needs of the city’s less fortunate. The group has been able to find success in this role by moving beyond traditional fundraisers to host special events that allow businesses, foundations, and citizens to become a part of the solution for homelessness.
“[The events] give a number of people the opportunity to support a charity and have fun doing it,” said O’Neal O’Loughlin, who will have worked with Friends of Boston’s Homeless for 10 years this April. As the nonprofit’s special events director, she oversees the group’s efforts to continuously bring homelessness awareness to different settings, one of which is the Beyond Shelter Gala, which has been held annually since Friends of Boston’s Homeless was founded.
This year’s gala, the 27th, falls on April 10, and will be held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the House of Blues. Along with raffles and silent auctions, more than 25 of Boston’s premiere chefs have agreed to create a gourmet tasting-menu specifically for the evening. Two bands will perform as well, including the Berklee College of Music’s Bob Marley Ensemble, directed by assistant professor of piano Matt Jenson. Tickets for the evening are priced at $125 and will contribute to funding for programs supported by the Friends of Boston’s Homeless. O’Neal O’Loughlin and the rest of the Friends of Boston’s Homeless staff are expecting around 750 attendees, hopefully including newly sworn-in Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Deval Patrick, who were personally invited by the nonprofit.
“We want to get the people of Boston talking,” O’Neal O’Loughlin said regarding the Beyond Shelter Gala.
Along with the annual gala, Friends of Boston’s Homeless hosts a Harvest Dinner each fall at the Boston area’s largest homeless shelter located on Long Island, Mass. The most unique aspect of this dinner, however, is not that the food is cooked by some of the city’s best chefs, but that it comes from the neighboring Farm at Long Island, a four-acre certified organic and environmentally sustainable farm that grows vegetables, herbs, and fruit.
The Farm at Long Island works with Friends of Boston’s Homeless by providing hands-on job training, culinary arts education, and work-readiness skills to the homeless. The farm also sends about 70 percent of its produce back to Boston-area shelters. According to O’Neal O’Loughlin, this not only allows Boston’s “most vulnerable population to get first quality food,” but it also provides the chance for individuals working on the farm to see and be proud of the work they have accomplished.
Although the events hosted to raise funds and public awareness are unique and innovative, Friends of Boston’s Homeless is most concerned with how the efforts from such events are able to help the city’s impoverished. Instead of just filtering money into shelters, Friends of Boston’s Homeless takes special initiative to support programs that will allow those affected by homelessness to live healthy, stable, and independent lives.
Working with Homeless Services of the Boston Public Health Commission, the non-profit finds solutions through literacy education, job training, and housing efforts. Friends of Boston’s Homeless also encourages a full continuum of care for the underprivileged, including resources for free GED classes, AA meetings, and career-skills programs in which heads of companies are able to give lectures via Skype in order to share practical career advice.
O’Neal O’Loughlin said that she began working for Friends of Boston’s Homeless after a lengthy career as a banker, when she decided that she “wanted to do something more.”
She said that every event planned or fundraised initiated by the non-profit is “above all, always for the homeless.”