Monday, November 16, 2009

On The Value Of A Shelter To A Commmunity

Following is an editorial which appeared in the Key West Citizen on May 16, 2008.....


This past Saturday morning, a homeless man named Harry walked out of the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter on Stock Island and caught the first bus to the airport, where he boarded a northbound flight and left Key West.

I know several people who would say, "Good riddance!" But there are a few things those folks should know about Harry. This 44-year-old former marine now has a job, and he was being flown to Minnesota for a week of training and orientation before returning to the Keys to go to work maintaining and repairing commercial dishwashing machines.

In Harry, the community already has a congenial, law-abiding citizen, and now it will also have a self-sustaining, tax-paying, year-round consumer.

While looking for work, Harry stayed at the Key West shelter for the homeless, known as KOTS. He had a safe, clean place to sleep, and he was able to shower daily and keep himself presentable for job interviews.

Harry's story is not an isolated case. On any given day, more than 60 percent of the homeless people staying at KOTS will have worked. They are a part of America's ever-growing number of working poor, who can not find an affordable place to live.

Anyone who has recently been to Radio Shack, Border's, Dion's Chicken, the Waterfront Market, or Lower Keys Medical Center, quite possibly came in contact with an employee who stays at KOTS. Restaurants that employ people who stay, or have stayed at KOTS are too numerous to list, as are the landscapers and building contractors.

All of the aforementioned businesses, and many more, need the people who stay at KOTS for jobs that are often difficult to fill.

The homeless people who stay at KOTS need those jobs to provide them with the basic necessities of everyday life.

Both the businesses and the homeless people they employ need KOTS. Key West needs KOTS!

--William Laney

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Compliments That Mean The Most

Forget the denials! We all welcome a pat on the back, and we all appreciate kind words that say well done. Whatever the source; from wherever it comes, a timely compliment can make your day. There is nothing better, however, than hearing that compliment from someone who shares your field of endeavor, and who has knowledge of what you do, and who knows of your effort, and of the quality of your work. There is nothing that means more than praise from your peers. And that is why I so enjoyed a comment posted by Virginia Sellner concerning the article about Karen Olson, founder of Family Promise. Here is Virginia, Executive Director of The Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless, and herself an iconic figure among homeless advocates, praising the work of another icon of like stature. Both ladies are long serving, highly respected, and extremely effective leaders in homeless advocacy. Is it thousands, or could it be millions--the number of homeless and hungry and hurting people who have been helped directly or indirectly by the efforts of Virginia Sellner and Karen Olson over the last thirty years. Both were helping the homeless before America knew it had a homeless problem. In speaking with these ladies individually, I have found something else that they have in common. Both Virginia and Karen project a natural and genuine warmth that makes you feel proud and privileged to know them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Compassionate Lady's "Family Promise" Fulfilled

Photo courtesy of Family Promise
It was 1982, and America was just waking up to the fact that it had a serious national problem with homelessness. That was five years before the first-ever major piece of legislation to help the homeless was enacted--the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. But back in 1982, there was at least one lady who was ahead of her time. Karen Olson was moved by the sight of homelessness. It was not what she read in newspapers, or saw on TV that touched her--the media was not yet on the story. For Karen, it was leaving work each day in New York City, and passing a lady who lived on the street. One day, Karen passed the lady, and on impulse detoured into a store and picked up a sandwich. She went back and gave it to the lady, whose name was Millie, and who displayed genuine emotion in her thank you. Karen, a single parent, told her two young sons what had happened, and the three of them returned to Millie's "neighborhood" on the weekend, and gave out more sandwiches and smiles. That episode became like a "Family Promise" to help the homeless. That they did! And soon thereafter, Karen started something called the "Interfaith Hospitality Network". Her idea was to get help from churches of different denominations, and synagogues, so as to pool resources to help the impoverished and those without housing. Her plan was to provide families in distress with immediate help, while working to return the families to long term self sufficiency. Eventually, the name of the organization was changed to "Family Promise" and there are now 134 chapters across America. I have been privileged to see Family Promise at work in Palm Beach County. I met with a young Mother named Grace who has been given a fresh start. Karen Olson will be appearing at a Family Promise fund raiser in Boca Raton on November 5. For information, log on to It's just one more result of a Family Promise fulfilled.