7 people improving the lives of Philadelphians experiencing homelessness - Generocity Philly

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May 9, 2018 10:56 am

7 people improving the lives of Philadelphians experiencing homelessness

Celebrate these "heroes for the homeless" at One Step Away's Steppy Awards on May 10.

Evan Figueroa-Vargas.

(Courtesy photo)

This story was originally published in the April 2018 issue of One Step Away, Philadelphia’s street newspaper. It appears here through a partnership between Generocity and One Step Away.


Every day, people throughout the city of Philadelphia work to make life a little easier for those in need.

Whether at a homeless shelter, government agency, meal-sharing or community-building program, or simply through friendly interactions in public places, there are countless compassionate individuals working to help those who have come upon hard times. So often, these actions can go without appreciation, recognition or thanks.

Each year, One Step Away dedicates our April issue to recognizing our Heroes for the Homeless and honoring those who commit themselves to working to end homelessness and bettering the lives of those currently experiencing homelessness.

We accept nominations for our Steppy Awards from our readers and community members, as well as from our vendors — many of whom choose to highlight someone who has helped them overcome homelessness in their lives, or who offered them a hand up when they needed it most.

Each of us can play a role in making life a little easier for people experiencing homelessness.

Whether through a career dedicated to fighting homelessness, a volunteer commitment or a generous gesture that can turn someone’s day around, each of us can play a role in making life a little easier for people experiencing homelessness. In the words of one of our vendors: “You have no idea how mean people can be — even a smile can change someone’s day.”

In this issue, we recognize community members who work tirelessly to improve the lives of their homeless neighbors. We are grateful for each of these Heroes and are proud to recognize them with a Steppy Award. In our newspaper’s pages, read about the Heroes our vendors nominated and why they chose to do so, as well as nominees who have been recognized by other community members for their outstanding service.

To all of our Heroes out there — both those recognized in these pages and those not — we give our heartfelt gratitude to you for all that you contribute to our city. You help build a compassionate Philadelphia where all are cared for. Thank you for your passion, your perseverance, and your kindness.

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The Steppy Awards will be given on Thursday, May 10, at the Pyramid Club during One Step Away’s Champions Celebration. Learn more and get tickets here. Here are this year’s Heroes for the Homeless:

Ben Mathew, volunteer

“Benjamin Mathew is a sophomore in high school in New Jersey and has a desire to help the homeless. He has served on the advisory board of Teens for TASK (Trenton Area Soup Kitchen) for the last two years. As part of his work with Teens for Task he has produced a documentary highlighting the work done by TASK.

“A 16-year-old student, Benjamin developed an app, Dovtail, that will digitalize the donation process for individuals who are interested in donating to organizations such as shelters and soup kitchens. He wants to help organizations that are fighting hunger and homelessness. His work in this area is ongoing while he continues his studies. His future interest is social entrepreneurship as he looks ahead to college.”

— Reena Mathew

Margaux Murphy, director of The Sunday Love Project

“The crux of the experience at The Sunday Love Project is building community. It is something that the project’s founder, Margaux Murphy, has been accomplishing since the Christmas season of 2014, when she started serving food on the streets of her neighborhood. By building relationships with fellow residents, donors, businesses, fundraisers, and volunteers, in addition to the food insecure people on the receiving end, Margaux has catalyzed a community of generosity focused in Philadelphia and extending far beyond.”

— Francis

Owen Camuso. (Courtesy photo)

Owen Camuso, assistant regional director of PA behavioral health and housing, Resources for Human Development

“Owen’s work at FASST Connections with the people experiencing homelessness is excellent, his passion and dedication to the men, women and families in Phila. homeless system, is excellent. The system, men and women will sorely miss his energy and expertise. We believe recognition of his work is important.”

— Joyce M. Sacco, director of housing, DBHIDS, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Housing and Homeless Services

“… It is for this work, his interest in researching best practices, and willingness to do whatever it takes to collaborate with others to use these practices for the better good of the homeless in Philadelphia that make Owen Camuso a hero.”

— Jim Piasecki, regional director, Philadelphia Behavioral Health and Housing Division, RHD

Evan Figueroa-Vargas, program manager of PeerNet at Mental Health Partnerships

“Evan has always been a big advocate for individuals who are homeless and have behavioral health issue. He has engaged people on the street to successfully place them directly in housing and has always practiced a housing first philosophy. Most recently he has taken on the task of being at the front lines of the opioid epidemic and working to educate the community of opioid use as well as advocate for opioid user treatment.”

— Owen Camuso, Assistant Regional Director Pennsylvania Behavioral Health & Housing Division, RHD

One Step Away, Philly's street paper.

One Step Away. (Courtesy photo)

Chris Berglund, case manager, FaSST/Connections at Kailo Haven, RHD

“Chris engages with some of the most vulnerable people in the homeless population to get them connect to benefits and resources. He is a source of knowledge and inspiration to staff and participants.”

— Mike Gold, TCM supervisor, FaSST/Connections

“Chris has worked on the front lines of homeless services for almost ten years now. Over this time he has engaged some of the most difficult people who have been living on the streets for years. He has successfully housed many of these individuals.

“Chris has the ability to really meet people where they are at in their lives. I have seen Chris be patient and persistent with people struggling in their recovery. When the individual is ready Chris is there no matter what time of day to help them take the next steps to overcome their addictions. Chris is very skilled and could do any job he wants to, but he has dedicated his skill set to working on the front line of homelessness in Philadelphia.

— Owen Camuso

“Chris is definitely a hero because he goes far out of his way to help those in need. He’ll go that extra mile to help someone, providing assistance to get housing, encouragement to go the next step, and whatever is necessary to get them where they need to be. He’s genuine: He doesn’t do it for a check; he does it to help people—for that good feeling in your heart that you helped someone, that you made someone else’s life better.”

— Daniel Rogers, DSP/CPS, Kailo Haven

(Photo via facebook.com/PeoplesEmergencyCenter)

Joe Willard, VP of policy, People’s Emergency Center

“Joe has worked tirelessly at both the local and state level lobbying for additional services for families, with a specific emphasis on infants and children. His work at the People’s Emergency Center encompasses both his negotiating additional services and funding for homeless families as well as developing such services. He is a willing leader in various meetings with local, state and federal officials, always attempting to educate them on the plight of the children and families. He has done research on families and children which he willingly shares with all providers of service.”

— Jim Piasecki

“He is the founding co-chair of the Housing Alliance of PA HAPPN Advocacy Group — a statewide advocacy effort make up of providers involved in advocacy and policy change around homelessness. He has led many visits to Harrisburg and Washington DC advocating for additional federal and state resources for families experiencing homelessness. He created and organizes the Philadelphia Family Provider network. Joe helped bring additional resources to Philadelphia around needs of children and the issues related to school. Joe is passionate and tenacious about the needs of homeless families.”

— Joyce M. Sacco

Father Chris Walsh, Saint Raymond of Penafort

“Since 2015, Father Chris Walsh and St. Raymond of Penafort Church have been partners with Depaul USA in providing volunteer and program support for the residents of St. Raymond’s House, a permanent supportive housing program for 27 men and women.”

— Shannon Morgan, associate director of St. Raymond’s House, DePaul USA

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