Thomas D. Segel
By: Thomas D. Segel
Harlingen, Texas, September 19, 2009: The late philosopher and academic Alfred North Whitehead may have described us best when he wrote, “The kindness of the American people is, so far as I know, something unique in the history of the world.” These acts of kindness identified by Whitehead have been repeated uncountable times in the course of our history. They continue today in the good works of individuals, small groups, large organizations and yes, in many programs of our local and national governments.
An ever-present example of kindness to others and the extending of a helping hand can be witnessed every day of the week in a large building between “E” and “F” Streets in Harlingen, Texas. It is there Loaves and Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley reaches out to every person who arrives at its door in need. It is also within the confines of this multi-service humanitarian organization that people can see first hand the devastating consequences of a recession that has eaten its way into every corner of our country.
Just three years ago Loaves and Fishes finished a year of service by feeding slightly more than 76,000 meals to the hungry. This year the shelter has already provided 105,367 meals and estimates that number will exceed 128,500 people served by the end of the calendar year. Added to this number are 3,500 bags of food distributed to other families in need.
At the beginning of 2006, Loaves and Fishes had provided 6,202 bed nights to the homeless. This year will see 10,480 bed nights offered to those with no other place to receive shelter. 4, 560 of those beds will have been provided to women and children.
Almost two decades ago the Harlingen Ministerial Alliance formed Loaves and Fishes to help a growing number of hungry individuals in the city. It opened its doors as a small non-profit soup kitchen serving a single hot meal to those in need. Today it is a newly refurbished 29,000 square feet of space providing a one-stop homeless and homeless prevention service. Loaves and Fishes now provides a homeless individual or family with food, shelter, job training and job placement. It also has a variety of programs and services designed to move people from being homeless and hopeless to self-sufficiency.
Currently the organization is providing the knowledge, skills, manpower and institutional expertise required to administer a large federal project titled the Homeless Prevention and Re-Housing Program. With a projected $937,120 from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus funds, Loaves and Fishes will provide homeless prevention assistance to households that would have found themselves without shelter due to the economic crisis. It will also provide assistance to rapidly re-house people who are now homeless.
More than 50% of the people staying in the homeless shelter are employed, but need various levels of assistance to make it back to self-sufficiency. Some of these individuals and families can be helped under this rapid re-housing program.
Other families now on the brink of becoming homeless can be provided with rent and utility assistance until they are capable of assuming full financial control of their lives. This help can be from a single month of rental assistance up to 18 months of subsidized financial help.
But, it is not a handout to those who are unwilling to help themselves. To qualify, all family members must attend a 16-hour course of financial planning. They must also undergo credit reports and credit repair. The L&F staff reviews all bills and obligations and each month the families must prove they have used the money saved by the federal program to pay down on their outstanding debt. A case manager is assigned to every family in the program, to assure compliance. The final objective is for each family to become debt free or at least have their financial obligations current and manageable.
Estimates made by L&F personnel reveal that rental assistance will be provided to 216 families and utility assistance will be extended to 90 families. Additional assistance in various forms should also be provided to another 612 families. In all, more than 3,800 people will be helped on the road to self sufficiency by the partnership efforts of this faith based organization and the federal government.
Thomas D. Segel