Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

St. Pius School Students Show Compassion for the Cape's Homeless

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Dec 05, 2014 @ 10:13 AM

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At the St. Pius X School in Yarmouth, students have set some lofty career goals. One wants to be an actress. Another wants to be an author.

Sixth grader Ana Wolfe, 11, wants to one day live in Washington D.C. where she hopes to serve as an ambassador to Paris, France. Why? “Because I love to do ballet and there are a lot of good ballet companies there,” she said.

Not one said they wanted to be homeless.

And if one were to visit the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, the clients there would all admit that they never envisioned they would be homeless when they were the same age.

So on the Friday before Thanksgiving, those clients had some advice for a group of roughly 36 St. Pius students in fifth through eighth grade. They were simple, but powerful messages like:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol
  • Get an education
  • Have compassion for people
  • Pay it forward
  • Set goals you can reach

Those messages were delivered to the students by NOAH Shelter director Greg Bar who took part in the school’s first-ever Cardboard City project that was aimed at introducing the idea of homelessness to the children.

In the days leading up to the event, students decorated their own individual cardboard boxes with some, like sixth grader Mary Skordas, opting to write inspirational quotes like this one from Anne Frank:

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”

And for a brief moment on one November night, students had a chance to empathize with the homeless by spending an hour in those boxes not long after having a basic meal of soup, sandwiches and fruit and hearing from Bar and Ginny Lewis of the Dennis Yarmouth Ecumenical Council for the Prevention of Homelessness (DYECH).

As to how people end up homeless, Bar said, it could be substance abuse, job loss or divorce. “There are a lot of situations out there and it is all sad. It is really sad,” he said. “When you end up at a place like the NOAH Shelter it is just the worst tragedy that has happened in your life.”

DSC 6865 resized 600Greg Bar addresses middle schoolers at St. Pius X School about homelessness on Cape Cod.

Maura Gogan, the business manager for St. Pius, served as the inspiration for the project based on a similar one she observed at a high school in Santa Clara, California, where she previously lived. There the students spent an entire weekend in a cardboard box to raise awareness and funds for the homeless situation in that West Coast city.

Having moved to Cape Cod two years ago, Gogan said, she was surprised to see so many homeless in this part of the state. She was hopeful that this project would inspire St. Pius students to “show compassion and empathize with the homeless,” she said. “Instead of ignoring them, they may now look at them as a person. And even if they can’t give them money, they can help them with a smile… Whatever they can give, hopefully they give from the heart.”

St. Pius teacher Christine Guzman took Gogan’s idea and ran with it, overseeing the students’ efforts which ended with some creating posters that will go in the NOAH Shelter and writing notes to shelter clients.

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For at least one student, fifth grader Morgan Silva (pictured above), 10, the project was the start of something bigger.

His goal is to one day open a shelter like NOAH or, at the least, offer the homeless a place to stay for a night or two. “I think we can really do more than what we’re doing,” he said. “I want to eradicate homelessness.”

Tags: Homeless, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar, St. Pius X School, cardboard city

State Backing Bolsters NOAH Day Center

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Sun, Nov 23, 2014 @ 09:58 AM
Cropped Gornstein resized 600Aaron Gornstein addresses the crowd.

In July – the same week that the 22nd Annual Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk was being held – the state threw its support behind the day center at NOAH and the timing could not have been more perfect.

In front of nearly 75 onlookers, including more than two dozen walkers, standing outside the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum on Main Street, Aaron Gornstein, the Massachusetts undersecretary for housing and community development, announced $200,000 in state funding for the new initiative being undertaken by HAC in collaboration with, among others, the town of Barnstable, the Greater Hyannis Civic Association, the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District and Duffy Health Center.

“I knew Bob Murray very well over my career,” Gornstein told those in attendance. “I know he would want us to fund this program.”

That program, opening the NOAH Shelter to the homeless during the day, began in May though the planning process began long before that. And Gornstein, who witnessed firsthand the preparation involved in opening the day center, marveled at the cooperation among the organizations involved. “It is unprecedented,” he said. “I have never seen this kind of collaboration across all the different interests come together around an important issue of homelessness in this town. And I was so impressed that we had to find a way to come up with the funding to get this program going.”

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Along with the $200,000 for the day center, Gornstein also informed the public that the NOAH Shelter will also see a boost in its overall funding as part of a commitment by the state to increase its support to individual homeless shelters throughout the Commonwealth.

The good news for the day center did not end there as Bert Talerman, an executive vice president for Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, handed HAC CEO Rick Presbrey a check for $10,000 to support the new initiative.

“This is a great preliminary success story. This is really the preface to the real story,” Presbrey said. “A big part of this is accountability to demonstrate to the community what we want to do, what we are doing and what we have done as a collaboration. If that doesn’t happen none of this is worth it.”


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Tags: Homeless, NOAH Day Center, Aaron Gornstein, Rick Presbrey, NOAH Shelter

Volunteering at NOAH Shelter Puts Life Into Perspective

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 @ 10:05 AM
DSC 0015 resized 600Ron Winner (left) of Shepley Wood Products talks to HAC's Deanna Bussiere as she slices bread in the kitchen of the NOAH Shelter.

On the final day of March a light snow fell on Hyannis, proof that Mother Nature was not going out like a lamb this month.

It was the type of bitter spring day that would keep most inside and at one point Ron Winner of Craigville Beach, contemplated doing just that after he had completed his shift at Shepley Wood Products where he is an outside sales representative.

But he did not. Instead he left work and headed to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, where he helped Julie Wake, HAC’s director of communications and development, and Deanna Bussiere, HAC’s event and resource development coordinator, cook and serve lasagna to 55 men and women who are homeless.

Adorned in a Boston Red Sox shirt – it was the first day of their 162-game season – Winner clearly could have been elsewhere, but he chose to volunteer a little more than an hour of his time feeding those less fortunate. “I do it because one day I could be here,” he said.

Later that night he went home to his wife Wendy and considered how fortunate his life has been.

Donating his time in such a way – over the past eight years he has served meals on a monthly basis to those in similar situations at CHAMP Homes in Hyannis – plays a vital role in his life.

And he viewed his March experience at HAC’s NOAH Shelter in the same vein. “I think it is valuable period because you get to learn about what life is all about and you are grateful for what you have,” he said. “And you realize there are people out there that need a little help.”

Greg Bar, the manager at NOAH, said volunteers like Winner are not an option, but a necessity at the shelter. “Every meal, every dinner is served by a volunteer group or an individual,” he said.

During Winner’s first foray in serving meals at the shelter he encountered one Harwich woman who was dropping off Klondike Bars for NOAH clients that evening. She has volunteered at NOAH feeding the homeless for the past 23 years. “I feel blessed to do it,” she said. “The sad thing is you see a lot of the same people here year after year.”

Benefits of Continuous Volunteerism 

Bar lauded volunteers such as these and the positive impact they are having on the community. “It is one thing to get sentimental around Thanksgiving and give a donation. It is another thing to do it month after month, year after year,” he said. “I think there is a deep desire to want to help people on a deeper and more effective level and these people get it. When you do this on a long-term basis there is something on the inside that is fulfilled.”

Volunteer groups are asked to cook or bring in prepared meals and then serve them to NOAH clients. Bar said he has one recommendation for those who want to volunteer at NOAH: “Think about what kind of meal you would like to eat.”

Favorites for clients tend to be pork roast, steak, a chef salad with chicken and fresh vegetables.

And the shelter is always in need of food donations, particularly milk, eggs, butter and drinks.

Typically NOAH will see an uptick in volunteerism during the holidays - November and December – with a decrease as the weather gets warmer. “The fact is people eat the same in the summer as they do in the winter,” Bar said.

While he is always looking for more volunteers, Bar can be assured that he will have at least one extra hand helping out throughout the year. Winner has plans to volunteer again, on a more regular basis, at the NOAH Shelter. “I love giving back,” Winner said. “I don’t have a lot to give money wise, but I can serve. And I think a lot of people need to realize they can help out that way.”

Tags: Homeless, HAC, NOAH Shelter, Shepley

Cape Cod Restaurateur Lends Expertise to Kitchen at NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 @ 03:35 PM

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As the owner and executive chef of The Naked Oyster Bistro and Raw Bar in Hyannis, Florence Lowell knows a thing or two about kitchens.

So when the Main Street Business Improvement District (BID) helped make the NOAH Day Center a reality in May, Lowell decided to use her expertise to help the shelter the best way she knows how – in the kitchen. “Elizabeth Wurfbain of BID put out an email saying the shelter needed help,” Lowell said. “I deal with kitchens all day long. That’s what I do so it is something I could easily take on which would benefit everybody.”

Lowell visited NOAH the week after the day center opened its doors to clients and was impressed with what she found. “I think they have a pretty nice facility when it comes to the kitchen,” she said.

Still, she saw room for some minor improvements. When NOAH director Greg Bar expressed interest in offering a Sunday breakfast Lowell bought the shelter a griddle.

Beyond that, Lowell is planning on putting a team together to spend a day and organize the kitchen so people can access food and ingredients better. “I think what they immediately need is to get a few things organized with labels so everybody can find things right away,” she said.

She also noticed the large freezer needs shelving, another project she has on her to-do list at NOAH.

And Lowell hopes to serve as a connection between her restaurant’s vendors and NOAH as a way to provide fruits and vegetables to shelter clients.

Volunteering has always been important to Lowell, who is from the Bordeaux region of France, first making stops in Houston and Austin, Texas before arriving on Cape Cod a little more than eight years ago. “In Houston I worked for the women’s shelters there,” she said. “We would make sure we spent at least one day a month cooking for people.”

Lowell has maintained her charitable giving on the Cape, where she is actively involved in fundraisers for Cape Abilities Farm in West Dennis, as well as Spaulding Rehab, where her husband Dr. David Lowell is the chief medical officer.

She views her recent work at NOAH as another way to give back to the community. “Everybody is talking about the homeless situation in Hyannis. It is a constant thing I hear,” Lowell said. “So I want to provide a better environment to entice people to stay at the shelter during the day.”

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, Florence Lowell, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar, Naked Oyster Bistro, Elizabeth Wurfbain

HAC Opens NOAH Day Center

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 @ 12:38 PM
 NOAH Day Center Photo resized 600NOAH Shelter Director Greg Bar talks with Rick Presbrey, CEO of HAC, and Michael Sweeney, HAC's vice president of administration and finance, at the opening of the day center. 

“The place is booming,” HAC CEO Rick Presbrey said to Michael Sweeney, HAC’s vice president of administration and finance, in the parking lot outside the NOAH Shelter the day before Memorial Day weekend was set to begin.

“I think it is stunning,” Sweeney added.

“It shows you people are interested,” Presbrey said.

That interest is in a new program – a day center for the homeless – HAC ushered in at the end of last month.

Expectations for the program were modest. Greg Bar, director for the NOAH Shelter, said prior to the opening that he would be pleased if anywhere from six to a dozen people showed up on any given day. On the first day those expectations were shattered when more than two dozen homeless men and women accessed the shelter.

Some used the shelter for rest, others for socialization and still others as a way to get off the streets, working with HAC’s employment specialist Carolann Gillard to find jobs and with HAC’s housing specialist Derick Bussiere to find permanent housing.

The day center is a pilot program and a collaboration of several municipal and local organizations – the town of Barnstable, the Barnstable Police Department, Duffy Health Center, the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District and HAC – to provide shelter to homeless individuals during the day.

Through Labor Day NOAH will be open an additional 37 hours per week with the possibility that will increase in the fall and winter. The program requires all guests to be dry, meaning no client can be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

While there are future plans to offer more learning and social opportunities – art and computer classes and financial assistance have all been mentioned as possibilities - Bar said he plans on “keeping it pretty simple right now,” stressing that he wants to focus on providing only the essentials initially: shelter, food and access to employment and housing services.

Tangible Benefits to Clients

He gave two specific examples of how the day program can help current clients, starting with Casey (his name has been changed) who does not drink or do drugs, but has medical issues for which he has to take prescription medicine. “When he takes his meds he falls asleep and when he does he falls asleep outside on a bench,” Bar said. “With the day center he can put his bags down and go to sleep here.”

Similarly, Sue (her name has been changed) has mental problems so severe she sits outside on benches, rocking back and forth while talking to herself. “Maybe she can come inside our dining room and have a safer place to do that,” Bar said. “This gives an option for people to come and be safe and they will be in a caring environment and will be more exposed to our housing and employment advocates.”

Ultimately, Bar said, he will judge the success of the program much differently than others, but if the first day was any indication HAC is taking a major step to serving an unmet need on Cape Cod.

Mitchell Rose, a 27-year-old Cape native who has found himself homeless, said NOAH has served as an invaluable resource as he takes small steps toward independence. “They all seem like they generally care for us and that helps keep you motivated to do what you need to do to get out of here,” he said.

He has aspirations to become an EMT or paramedic and views the day center as a safe and secure environment where he can study and do his homework, efforts that will one day translate into having a home to call his own. “I am sick of living like this because it is not easy living like this,” he said. “It can be a job in and of itself, being homeless.”

Presbrey said that those like Rose are indicative of how important the day shelter is. “It is a beautiful day out today,” he said, noting that these clients could have chosen to be elsewhere. “But they came because they like the safety and the acceptance of NOAH and they are willing to engage and seek out the help they need to get better.”


Donate to the Day Center

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, NOAH Day Center, NOAH Shelter, NOAH

Dodgeball Tournament Raises Funds for NOAH

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Jun 05, 2014 @ 03:17 PM
Dodgeball Winning Team resized 600The team that won Pope John Paul II High School's annual dodgeball tournament this year: Coleman Fenton (from left, holding the ball), Michael Young, Graham Shopshire (holding the trophy), Blake Waters, Kevin Marsh and Matt Soucie with honor society advisor Joe Gaudet.

What was the best part of Pope John Paul II High School’s dodgeball tournament in March?

“Winning,” said 17-year-old high school junior Coleman Fenton.

Fenton’s upperclassmen-led team – dubbed Jobe Apostles – got off to a rocky start in the annual event, losing to a freshman squad in its initial game before running the table and going 6-1 to earn the right to be called dodgeball champions.

Though teammates listed red-headed senior Michael Young, 18, as its best player, he shrugged off such notions. “I’m a team player,” Young said. “We all contributed.”

Those contributions went far and above simply throwing red rubber balls at their opponents and dodging those that came their way. Over the past four years students at the high school have used the playground sport as a way to give back to the community.

Both last year and this year students have raised funds for the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, giving back to those who need help the most – the homeless. This year they were able to raise $570 for NOAH, presenting a check to HAC last month.

The tournament is organized by the school’s National Honor Society. The group’s advisor Joe Gaudet said, “it actually gets exciting. Every year it gets better. We had 11 teams competing this year… It does get competitive and the kids really get into it. Some teams even dress up in costumes.”

This year those outfits ranged from tropical summer shirts to an all-black clad team that called themselves The Ninjas. The students’ creativity only shows that you can have fun supporting a cause that is no laughing matter. And in the end everyone is a winner.

Donate to the NOAH Shelter

Tags: Homeless, fundraiser, dodgeball tournament, NOAH, Pope John Paul II High School

Help Prevent Homelessness by Dining at the 99 Restaurant

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Mon, Jun 02, 2014 @ 11:29 AM

This Thursday the 99 Restaurant in West Yarmouth has kindly offered to donate 15 percent of your check to the Dennis-Yarmouth Ecumenical Council to Prevent Homelessness (DYECH).

That money will then be funneled to HAC's Project Prevention program which helps Cape Codders struggling with their bills to remain in their homes.

In order to participate in the fundraiser simply print out this voucher and present it to your server on Thursday, July 5 between 11 AM and 8 PM.

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Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, DYECH, Project Prevention, HAC

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: What Gorilla?

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Apr 18, 2014 @ 03:46 PM

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Sometime within the past year someone sent me an email with one of those visually deceptive tests. The challenge was to count the number of times three people in white shirts passed a ball back and forth during the video. Making it difficult was that there were also three players in black shirts passing another ball.

Concentrating as hard as I could I counted 17 total throws. At the end of the video I waited to see how close I was when an unexpected question appeared on the screen: “Did you notice the gorilla?” “What gorilla?” I thought.

I was then prompted to watch the video again and amazingly noticed a person wearing a gorilla suit walking right through the middle of the six people throwing the balls. I had absolutely no awareness whatsoever!

It was a shocking example of what all of us may do every day. How often do we not accurately see what is happening right in front of us? As the saying goes: “Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable.”

More and more I realize that I can’t really do two things well at the same time. How often have I been busy talking to my companion while driving and missed a turn? Why when I am nearing a destination, not knowing the exact route, do I turn off the radio? Why do I hit the mute button on the remote control when my wife is talking to me? Do you notice things when you are not looking for them? After you have lunch with someone can you remember the color of the clothes they were wearing?

My larger point is, are you always sure of the accuracy of what you believe? As we all heard in elementary school and high school, “check your work.” It always pays to take a careful look, get the other side of the story, and confirm what you thought you saw or heard.

Do you have an image in your mind of what the typical homeless person looks like?

Tags: Homeless, perception, Rick Presbrey

Finding a Home on Cape Cod Thanks to the NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 @ 02:10 PM

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Sit down with Tracey Dalton for even a minute and you will encounter someone who is largely positive, and considers herself blessed. “I’ve never been happier in my entire life,” she says honestly.

But it was not always this way. Less than a decade ago Dalton was lost, emotionally, physically and spiritually. For a seven-year period Dalton bounced around Atlanta, Miami, Maine and Cape Cod, a woman without a home or a purpose.

Her bed was wherever she could lay her head. On some nights it was in her Ford pick up truck. On other nights it was in an abandoned warehouse in less than ideal neighborhoods. Then there were the nights when she would sleep on the back porches of homes owned by complete strangers.

Alcohol and drugs were common, partially the result of two major car accidents that left her with a brain injury.

Her plight became so bad that she was losing that which meant the most in her life – her children, twins Heather and Sara Read, 32, of Miami, and Jessica Read-Feeley, 31, of Yarmouth. “I really just had the clothes on my back,” she said.

From that abyss, Dalton was able to find herself. Hers is a story of redemption, one that happened here on Cape Cod, where she moved to be closer to her youngest child. Dalton credits a number of organizations that starts with Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) and includes Cape Cod Hospital and Duffy Health Center, among others, for providing a light at the end of what had been a dark tunnel.

None of this was easy. In fact, Dalton admits, the most difficult moment of her life was the day she walked into NOAH, HAC’s homeless shelter in Hyannis. It was the first time she had ever entered a homeless shelter during her seven years of homelessness.

“It was the most horrific and terrifying and traumatic decision I have ever had to make,” she said.

This type of reaction is one that Greg Bar sees frequently in his capacity as the shelter manager. “Nobody wants to be there,” he said.

Finding Comfort at NOAH

Despite that initial hesitation Dalton grew to find comfort at NOAH, through its staff and Bar’s guiding hand.

“It is a non-judgmental zone,” she said, emphasizing the importance of having this type of atmosphere in what can be a stigmatizing environment. “They were compassionate to people and loving, and it really made me feel better.”

And she returned that positivity to those she took shelter with at NOAH. “I’d walk in there and the first thing I’d say is, ‘It’s all about the love!’ and they would start laughing,” she said.

Dancing to music – Sister Sledge and the Pointer Sisters were favorites – and watching movies became ways for Dalton to bond with those at NOAH who all shared similar experiences of life on the streets. And it created a sense of home when she had long been without one.

“Tracey always had a brightness about her,” Bar said. “She was bright intellectually, but she also had a bright disposition and she was eager to improve her situation.”

And eventually she did, landing a rental apartment in Orleans through that town’s housing authority after spending several months at NOAH and navigating the mountain of paperwork that comes with subsidized housing.

“It looks like something out of the Bahamas,” Dalton says of her apartment which has given her not only security, but hope. This is her piece of paradise, here on Cape Cod.

Today she has turned her life around to the point she is helping others. She volunteers with the Eastham and Orleans councils on aging, the Wounded Warrior Project and she maintains her sobriety by attending regular AA sessions.

Most importantly, she has reconnected with her three daughters, and is the proud grandmother to four healthy and happy grandchildren.

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Dalton shared her story of success with HAC staff and supporters at its annual meeting earlier this month as proof that no matter what the circumstance “you can rebuild your life,” she said. “Now I have a new soul.”

She is just one example of many, Bar said, that homelessness is not permanent, noting that when he previously served as a housing search specialist in HAC’s Individual Services Department he would help find homes for at least 10 people a month who had been in similar situations to Dalton. “We hope that everybody comes to that point and we do what we can to get to that point. When somebody has lost hope you ask, ‘How do you help them find hope again?’” he said. “It is a question we are always trying to find the answer to.”

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, HAC Annual Meeting, NOAH Shelter, NOAH, Greg Bar, Tracey Dalton

Making Connections at NOAH Shelter

Posted by Julie Wake on Tue, Mar 11, 2014 @ 07:30 PM
“A minimal amount of human contact can change a life,” said Greg Bar, manager of HAC’s NOAH Shelter, about a new volunteer project at NOAH Shelter. 
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One night Bill Dado had a dream he was working with the homeless in Hyannis.  “When I woke up I just had to go to the computer and Google shelters in Hyannis,” said Bill Dado.  Dado moved to the Cape two years ago and is a retired high school guidance counselor from Sturbridge, MA.   “The next thing I knew I was filling out an online application to volunteer for HAC, meeting with the volunteer coordinator and being quickly introduced to Greg Bar.”

Dado’s concept is to create a “pen pal” type relationship with NOAH clients and high school students.  Students would be connected to a client and would initiate a letter exchange as simple as, “I’m thinking of you and I care.”  Clients would receive a letter with just the student’s first name and vice versa. Letters would be managed through the school’s community service person.

In Dado’s previous career as a guidance counselor, he saw major benefits when “at risk” students were connected to a teacher on a one on one basis.  “I thought if we applied this to the homeless, even though the gesture is small, we might really make a personal impact on so many levels,” said Dado.

Sturgis West and Cape Cod Academy have signed on to be pilots for the program. 

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, HACbeat, volunteers, Volunteer Cape Cod, Volunteer coffee hour, housing assistance corporation, NOAH Shelter, NOAH, volunteering