Heroes for the Homeless

Heroes for the Homeless 2017

Heroes for the Homeless

2017 Steppy Awards Honoring Philadelphians working to make life a little easier for those in need.

Originially published in One Step Away’s April 2017 Issue

What do you envision when you hear the word “hero?” An American soldier at war for the sake of liberty, maybe? Perhaps a policeman chasing a violent criminal through an alley, or a fireman pulling someone out of a burning building? While all of the above are true heroes of our society, there are many more that you don’t see. Not all heroes wear a uniform or carry a weapon. There are those who fight a formidable foe with a hot cup of coffee on a cold day, or a pack of hand-warmers and a thick pair of socks.  Such people are heroes to the homeless of our society, or as we would prefer to call them . . . 

Homeless heroes.

Awardee: Bridgette Tobler

Nominated By: Michele Wexler & Timothy Sheahan, DBHIDS

We nominate Bridgette Tobler for a 2017 Steppy Away. Bridgette has worked for the Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) for over eighteen years. Her work over the past four years coordinating homeless outreach has been the culmination of years of training and experience in the behavioral health field. Bridgette consistently goes above and beyond in her work with those who are living on the streets. Part of her mission is to ensure that no one “falls through the cracks” and that everyone on the street is engaged, has an opportunity to come inside, and receive the services that they need.

Bridgette works directly with the six different agencies that provide homeless outreach, as well as the Outreach Coordination Center (OCC) to ensure that operations are running smoothly, and that the various parts of the city are covered and canvased by homeless outreach teams to ensure that we are reaching all of those who are experiencing street homelessness in our city. She also engages in strategic planning, policy development, and key decision making around resource deployment in regards to homeless outreach services for the City.

We want to acknowledge Bridgette for her planning, coordination, and hard work around recent high profile events, such as the Papal visit and the Democratic National Convention, and key hot spots, such as the Septa concourse, Rittenhouse Square, and The Parkway. She can also often be found engaging in homeless outreach with the teams and helping to troubleshoot difficult cases in her efforts to get folks connected to needed resources. Throughout her work, she utilizes a person-first approach in addressing homelessness in Philadelphia, and has a reputation for responding to all situations in a swift, agile, creative, and professional manner.

Awardee: Grace Wishcum Smith

Nominated By: Tammy Karuza, former One Step Away Vendor & Writer

I nominate Grace because when she ran into me, I had all but given up on life.  She took me off the street at her own expense, found me a place to stay, and pointed me forward. Even though she did not have a good understanding at the time of what the paper is, she supported me on it, gifting me with the cold weather gear I wear while I am selling my papers in the cold. When you have experienced some of the things I have experienced over the years, it is hard to have faith in anything. I am convinced that people like Grace keep people like me from giving up on the human race.

Grace’s Comments:

I do not deal with any particular entity whereas the homeless are concerned, but I do other charity work. I met someone I knew many years ago from Big Brothers Big Sisters, who was down on her luck and was homeless at the time, so I reached out to try to do what I could to help her.

I have never experienced homelessness. I have been very fortunate in my life. However, I’ve come in contact with people experiencing homelessness for the last 35 years of my career. Some are just regular people who are down on their luck, who want to do good, and want to have a job, and a place to live. Then there are others who have more of a criminal element, who have been removed from places, or have been incarcerated and don’t have a place to go when they get out.

I think that there are a lot of things that cause homelessness: unfortunate circumstances, people may lose their jobs, rifts with family, drug abuse, maybe some mental health issues. There’s a good majority of things that can cause homelessness.

To solve homelessness, I think that there needs to be financial support, but I also recognize, being in law enforcement, that some people experiencing homelessness don’t want to be off the street — they feel more comfortable on the street. I think the only thing we can do for those particular people is to give them resources, so they can find a place to shower and eat, and maybe get out of the cold temporarily. We could donate clothes or other necessities, that would still allow people to live in their comfort zone.

Homeless people are people and they deserve respect. I think people are afraid of homeless people because they don’t understand why they are homeless.

Awardee: Harvey Bass

Nominated By: Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission Staff: Jeff Harvey, Richard Marvin, Richard McMillen, Julio Arroyo, Steve Brubaker, & Jarreau Freeman 

We nominate Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission’s Men’s Ministry Director Harvey Bass for a 2017 Steppy Award.

It takes a remarkable person to commit nearly 20 years of their life to serve the homeless community of Philadelphia. Harvey Bass is nothing short of remarkable. He stands on the frontlines of the homeless crisis in our city, and champions for the lost and forgotten.

For 18 years Harvey has served the homeless and hurting men of Philadelphia with honesty, compassion, and love. At Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, the oldest free provider of three meals a day in Philadelphia, he is committed to seeing broken lives made whole through the power of Jesus Christ. He deeply cares for the brokenhearted men that walk through our doors, and demonstrates this by meeting their immediate needs, while building lasting relationships with them.

Oftentimes, our former guests visit Harvey and share their progress. Sometimes they have great news to report, and other times the men Harvey has loved and nurtured are struggling again. “The fact that they come by is a testament to the influence that God has on their life through Harvey,” shares Jeff Harley, Sunday Breakfast’s Education Chaplain.

Harvey has a special way of relating to guests because of the trials he has been through it in is life. Although he has never been homeless, he battled addiction and spent time in prison. Many of the clients at Sunday Breakfast have had similar experiences. He is one of the few people who can look them in the eye, and say: I know what you are going through, and you can make it to the other side.

“He has an amazing understanding of the homeless,” shares Business Manager Richard Marvin. “He understands the way homeless individuals think, feels, and see the world. I have seen him be compassionate toward people, while also being stern with them in a kind way.”

Over the years, Harvey has had many roles at Sunday Breakfast, from working in the Food Service Department to doing neighborhood outreach work to his current role as the Director of Men’s Ministry. In each position, he has displayed enthusiasm and a willingness to serve others.

“The lives of many have been changed by Harvey’s wise advice and experience,” shares Richard McMillen, Executive Director and CEO of Sunday Breakfast. “Men with addictions, prison records, and worse, have made a dramatic change under Harvey’s care and supervision. His service to the community as a pastor, elder, and friend has touched many lives.”

Sunday Breakfast Food Service Director Julio Arroyo worked closely with Harvey while he was a member of the long-term Overcomer Program, which helps men transition out of homelessness through Biblical counsel and job readiness training. Julio had spent time in prison and battled addiction when he first came to Sunday Breakfast. Harvey became Julio’s mentor and encouraged him in his walk with God. Under Harvey’s care, Julio climbed the ranks and was hired as head of the Food Service Department.

“Harvey taught me to always follow Christ and not follow man,” Julio explains. “He told me that man will fail me, but Christ will never fail me.”

“Harvey is a faithful follower of God and has been able to bring people out of the shadows of their addiction,” added Steve Brubaker, Director of Programs. “He has a long history and legacy on Sunday Breakfast. He knows the Philadelphia community and always directs the clients toward God. He cares deeply about the homeless men in our care and brings truth to them.”

Harvey is truly a hero for the homeless. He is passionate about seeing lives changed and renewed. Each day he is working to make a difference in the lives of those in need. It is a thankless job with many challenges, but Harvey is always up for the challenge.

Awardee: Sam Janney

Nominated By: Owen Camuso, RHD FaSST/Connections and Michele Wexler & Timothy Sheahan, DBHIDS Homeless Services 

We want to recognize Sam Janney for his dedication working in safe havens and with people with substance abuse problems. Sam, unfortunately, passed away recently but has done great work for the homeless population.

Sam worked for the Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) for the past seven years, in several different capacities. He started in 2011, as a case manager working with individuals with substance abuse and mental health problems. He quickly gained a reputation for being an amazing case manager and someone that others could go-to for resources and strategies on how to handle difficult situations. In time, Sam moved into a specialty position on the Keys to Recovery Team, focusing on the most complex cases. People who were referred to the program had histories of long term street homelessness, chronic medical issues, domestic violence histories, as well as substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health challenges. Sam excelled on this team and was once again a role model to other case managers on how to engage and support people effectively.

In 2016, Sam was promoted and accepted a position overseeing and supporting the City’s homeless safe haven network. It was there where Sam really spread his wings. This role tapped into all of Sam’s strengths and his already great work had even more rippling effects. Sam’s daily emails with a funny picture, uplifting message, or random factoid, was just one of the many ways Sam made his new position his own. His dedication, passion, resourcefulness, humor, and Pez collection brought new energy to the department.

Most of us who got a chance to know and work with Sam, often describe him as one of the most skilled and compassionate social workers we have ever had the pleasure of working alongside. He had a manner of communicating with folks who were suffering in a way that made them immediately feel comfortable, cared for, respected, and heard; and all with a soft-spoken word and gentle smile. When you watched Sam engage with participants, you realized quickly that these were not things that he learned in books or in school. It was who he was and this was the work that he was meant to do. He was genuine and sincere, compassionate and empathetic, humble and heartfelt, willing and eager to learn and grow, and always willing to help those in need. His departure leaves a void in our hearts and in our system that may never be replaced.

We will remember Sam and celebrate him as we continue on the work that he loved so much because we know that is what he would want us to do.

Awardees: Drexel University ‘s Health Outreach Project (HOP) Students & Dr. Steven Rosenzweig

Nominated By: Shannon Morgan, Associate Director, St. Raymond’s House

I would like to nominate Dr. Steven Rosenzweig and the students involved in Drexel University’s Health Outreach Project (HOP). They have created clinic spaces in various social services agencies for the homeless, providing FREE healthcare and wellness counseling. One of their clinics is in St. Raymond’s House, our permanent supportive housing program, and I cannot even put into words the amount of gratitude we have for them and the amazing work that they do both here and throughout Philadelphia. Even at times when folks were not yet ready to access services from them, they persisted in finding creative and thoughtful ways to engage and build relationships with residents so that they felt safe and comfortable. At St. Raymond’s House there is one doctor, five coordinators, and then various student volunteers that come each week. The coordinators switch each year. This year is our first year with HOP and we are so grateful for the students who developed the clinic: Maëlys Amat, Hyein Jeon, Paul Menell, Michelle Fleyshman, and Wick Mcllvain.

Maëlys’ Comments:

Volunteering at St. Raymond’s House at the weekly Health Outreach Project student-run clinic is a memorial experience. I’ll never forget one of our patients who had long suffered from leg wounds due to chronic illness. After talking to Dr. Rosenzweig, I realized that although, as a medical student, I could not treat this patient, there was a lot I could do to make her more comfortable. After this, I was able to acquire supplies and show her how to utilize them daily to keep herself more comfortable while waiting for an appointment. She was forever grateful for my help and our relationship remains close when I see her every week. Following my previous AmeriCorps experience, I went to medical school determined to one day help people in an even greater capacity as a doctor. Since then, I have been extremely involved in our medical school student-run clinics, including starting my own clinic for homeless patients with chronic illnesses.  I feel fortunate to have met this population and learn more and more from them about the social determinants of health every week. They’ve taught me more about medicine then I could have ever learned from a textbook. I look forward to continuing to serve this incredible group of individuals as I move forward in my training.

Awardee: Debra Bullock

Nominated By: Eric Hazelwood & Tammy Karuza, former One Step Away Vendors

We want to acknowledge Debbie for a 2017 Steppy Award because Debbie is always kind to the vendors and those experiencing homelessness. Debbie always has a kind word, that kind word can make a big difference in the life of someone who is trying to come back up from rock-bottom. It makes a person feel whole. It makes a person feel as though they matter. As small an act as it may seem, to those of us with little or no other support in our lives, it amounts to a hill of hope.

Debbie’s Comments:

I first became involved with the homeless when they started coming into the store and getting coffee, or standing outside the store begging for coffee. It comes from the heart; I help whenever I can.

My most memorable experience was in the winter. A woman, she was in her late 20s–early 30s, outside with no shoes, no socks, no jacket. She had on a dress and was laying across the ground showing herself. I had to tell her to cover up, because I get in about 4:45 a.m. when it’s still dark. There were men out there. You know how some people take advantage of girls. I had to bring her into the store, though I didn’t have any shoes or anything to give her, but I said, “Get yourself together. No sense in laying on the ground. It’s time to wake up anyway.” Many of the people with mental problems are homeless. It’s sad that they don’t have any family or anything.

I have been homeless myself. I’d say about seven years ago. It might seem hard, but prayer helps. Never give up. Keep it moving. It will not come on that silver platter.  You’ve got to work to get it. If you help yourself, then others will help you.

Every spring, One Step Away takes nominations from the community to honor those in Philadelphia who dedicate themselves to the fight against homelessness. 

We would like to thank everyone who took the time to submit nominations for this year’s Steppy Awards. We would also like to thank all of the awardees for their passion and dedication. Every day, people are working to improve our community and make it a little easier for those in need. Their efforts bring us one step closer to ending homelessness.