Serving the homeless in Chicago can be a challenge for many organizations. Identifying and counting an exact number can be challenging due to the inexact nature of homelessness in Chicago. Many nonprofits make strong efforts to provide services to this population, but one nonprofit - Care For Friends - takes a very unique, compassionate perspective towards serving the homeless in Chicago.
Founded in 1986, Care For Friends began as offshoot of the Church of Our Saviour. However, Care For Friends is not a completely branded, separate organization focused solely on providing resources for homeless and at-risk individuals. Through their efforts, Care For Friends hopes to make an impact on homelessness in Chicago, either through prevention, direct intervention, and most importantly - empathy.
One key difference between Care For Friends and other nonprofits is that it does not receive any government funding nor do they engage in social enterprise. All of their funding is provided through individual donations, allowing them to make a more direct impact on homelessness in Chicago. Given factors like the current budget crisis in Springfield, Care For Friends can serve the Chicago homeless population without worrying about funding sources ending. Care For Friends also avoids the usual bureaucracy and paperwork around government funding, focusing solely on serving those needs which impact the homeless population in Chicago.
One of the ways in which Care For Friends differs from other programs is their lack of a formal intake process. When working with individuals facing homelessness in Chicago, Care For Friends doesn't refer to them as clients or participants, but as guests. These actions reinforce the idea that homeless individuals in Chicago deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Unlike social service agencies burdened by heavy caseloads and grant requirements, Care For Friends fosters a greater sense of empathy for the homeless, seeing them as individuals and not as "numbers."
Another factor that makes Care For Friends unique is their programming, which integrates both practical and traditional services. Although they provide toiletries and clothes like other programs, Care For Friends also provides nutritionally balanced meals three days a week. Participants are allowed to wash their laundry on the premises, and Care For Friends is looking to expand their capacity for service. Care For Friends even provides foot care and basic preventative medical services for the homeless in Chicago. These may seem like small efforts, but smaller efforts often lead to greater results....and with many at risk for homelessness in Chicago, small services provide some relief and comfort.
Care For Friends does this primarily through volunteers - in fact, Gary Kenzer, Executive Director of Care For Friends, is the nonprofit's only paid staff member.
Like many other nonprofits, Care For Friends holds a variety of events (including a reception in late September), but their Sleepout for Homelessness on January 27th, 2017 is especially noteworthy. Started in 2016, the Sleepout is an effort to drive awareness about the experience of homelessness in Chicago - participants are given a tent and $5, and have to find a place to sleep for the night (from sunset to sunrise). Participants are also encouraged to post/tweet/blog about their experiences.
Now, this may seem rather superficial - after all, being homeless is a more long-term state than a one-night deal. (Especially given recent news about an Arizona couple declaring themselves "homeless"....on YouTube). But one key factor impacting homelessness in Chicago is the lack of deep, empathetic awareness. We're used to seeing homeless individuals downtown or near north, but homelessness is impacting our neighborhoods. It's easy to forget that for many people in Chicago, homelessness isn't an abstract, but a potentially scary - and powerful - future. By driving a sense of empathy and caring, Care For Friends fosters a more humanitarian - and hopeful - method of preventing and lessening the impact of homelessness in Chicago.
Many agencies strive to meet the challenge of working with individuals affected by homelessness in Chicago. Care For Friends is a well-needed ally...and a nonprofit that deserves your attention.
Comments? Questions? Ideas for other organizations to check out? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook page. (If you want to reach me directly, simply use this "Contact Me" form)
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