We are blessed at Preble Street with generous, loyal donors who, year after year, send us a check. Whether the donation is $50 or $500, we are inspired by their support. Some have been doing this for as long as we can remember. I’ve been sending "thank you" notes for over 20 years to people I feel I know well, though I’ve never met them. These donors and their heartfelt gifts save lives and meet growing needs in Portland and beyond.
We also have some "angels" who have made very large, transformational donations to keep a shelter for children open when another agency announced its closing; to open Logan Place, a housing alternative to overcrowded shelters; to launch the Maine Hunger Initiative effort to improve Maine’s tragic status as the country’s fifth hungriest state.
All the donations, large and small, make Preble Street a strong, committed, solutions-centered organization, and we appreciate the investment each donor is making to our relentless, mission-driven work.
But something is missing.
Specifically, it’s people like the couple who gave $30 million to a homeless service organization in Philadelphia to replicate successful models and move thousands of people from the streets to stable housing. When I heard about that gift, I filled a whiteboard at Preble Street with a vision map, and our New Year’s resolution is to find visionaries here in Maine with the means to underwrite those dreams.
With a fractured social compact, where government is no longer able – or willing – to support a sturdy safety net, it has fallen to private funders to keep emergency shelters open, stock shelves at soup kitchens and meet the basic needs of our brothers and sisters.
But philanthropy can do more: It can build bridges to dignity, stability and independence.
Yet in 2012, only 13 percent of philanthropic dollars nationally supported human services, according to Giving USA 2013. Human services doesn’t even appear on the list of "causes that received gifts of $5 million or more" in a 2012 Chronicle of Philanthropy report.
And, most troubling to me, the percentage of donations allocated to social services sinks as incomes rise, with only 4 percent of donors with incomes over $1 million designating contributions to basic needs, according to a New York Times report.
In 2012, of 95 individual gifts over $1 million (totaling an amazing $7 billion), only four were donations to human services – and those went to the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation.
None were made in Maine, and that needs to change.
Human service organizations are not simply "do-gooders." We are thoughtful, strategic, expert problem-solvers. We have to be: The stakes are too high. Every day, thousands of Mainers count on us to help them survive the ravages of poverty, homelessness, hunger and abuse.
Every day we witness these struggles at Preble Street:
• A 79-year-old woman with dementia, getting around in a wheelchair, living in shelters and on the streets, unable to access an assisted living program.
• A 17-year-old boy whose only experience of family has been 14 foster homes.
• A 35-year-old man with untreated severe mental illness, shuttling back and forth between shelters, hospital emergency rooms and jails.
• A 30-year-old victim of domestic violence, forced to trade her body for a place to stay.
They deserve better, and agencies like Preble Street know what needs to be done. All that’s missing is the power that wealthy donors alone have: the power to capitalize on what we’ve proven works, allowing us to dramatically improve outcomes. And to save lives.
Some examples from Preble Street’s whiteboard:
• $1 million would run a recovery house for homeless women struggling with addiction.
• $5 million would provide a comprehensive service system replacing the long lines of mats in jam-packed shelters and endless wandering from one end of town to the other to get a meal, register for a job and sign up to see a doctor.
• $10 million would open another Logan Place for medically compromised people living in poverty.
• Four $10,000,000 gifts would virtually end chronic homelessness in Portland.
I am certain that social service agencies all over Maine have their own whiteboards. They, too, deserve angels. There is so much we all can accomplish, if we have the means.
We’re grateful to all our donors. They underpin the lifesaving work we do. If they could, we know they would do more.
But to move beyond rescue operations, social service agencies need investors who understand the urgency of our work and who believe that all people matter.
With a few generous donors we could transform Portland, filling the cracks so no one falls through, moving everyone closer to their dream, celebrating a city where all are better off when none are suffering.
Help us meet our 2015 resolution.
– Special to the Press Herald