Survivors of human trafficking rallied Thursday in Augusta to increase public awareness about forced laborers or sex workers in Maine and to advocate for a bill allowing trafficking victims to have criminal convictions vacated. They were joined by representatives from Maine nonprofit organizations including Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Services.
For the 24th year in a row people gathered in Portland Friday on the longest night of the year to remember those from greater Portland’s homeless community who have died during the past 12 months. Thirty-six people were remembered, 26 men and 10 women, with an average age of 47.
Friday night, people in Portland remembered members of the city’s homeless community who have since passed away. The event included live music, a candle light vigil, speeches from community leaders and Preble Street organizers.
Increased homelessness and its root causes are not unique to Portland. Despite what we hear about a strengthening economy, homelessness and hunger have exploded and many thousands of hungry, cold and ill Americans are living on streets in cities and towns across the country. And, across the country, municipalities and service providers struggle daily with unpredictable funding and increased costs as they work tirelessly to help people in their communities find shelter, food, housing, health care and hope.
… It was the mid-1970s when Joe Kreisler, a social work professor at the University of Southern Maine, hatched the idea that his students should have meaningful, hands-on internships working with people struggling with homelessness, hunger and poverty …
… Preble Street and nonprofit organizations like it do not create hunger and homelessness but work to end them.
If these agencies didn’t exist, the hungry and homeless would still be here – and the cost of their care would be the responsibility of the state budget that our governor is trying to cut …
Preble Street, a Portland-based social service agency, announced it earned the highest score of any charity in Maine in a 2014 fiscal-year analysis performed by Charity Navigator, a national evaluator of charities. The agency recorded an overall average of 99.17 points out of 100 to rank among the highest-scored nonprofits in the country.
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
…Preble Street earned the top rating of the 43 nonprofit groups in Maine rated by Charity Navigator, with a score of 99.17 out of 100. Preble Street operates with a $9 million budget, running homeless shelters and a food pantry in Portland, as well as various programs to help low-income and mentally ill people…
PORTLAND – Our roles as stewards of Preble Street’s mission, philosophy and approach compel us to respond to a recent Maine Voices column that questions the effectiveness of the work our organization does ("Poor oversight of homeless services erodes Bayside’s quality of life," Feb. 4).
That column demands steps that were addressed and, in many instances rejected, by the Portland Homeless Prevention Task Force report.
At Preble Street, if a human being comes through our doors and asks for help, asks for food, asks for a roof over her head, we will do everything we can to help that fellow human being.
Besides these basic life-saving services, we will also provide, as do other nonprofits in this community, services to help people get jobs, find housing and reconnect with family.
We will not ask, "Well, how hungry are you?"
We will not say, "You can sleep on this mat on the floor, but only after we see a valid ID."
We will not wait weeks to get a criminal background check processed by the state before we offer a neighbor an emergency food box.
These kinds of requirements apparently feel good to some people, with some sense that to do otherwise is simply enabling people. What we’re doing is enabling people to eat. We’re enabling them to survive a freezing, scary night.
We know that the Greater Portland community shares and champions the values and work of Preble Street, with thousands of volunteers, food drives, clothing donations and financial support.
Preble Street is governed by an all-volunteer board of directors from this same community, who bring considerable and diverse professional and personal experience to their role and who take that role extremely seriously.
Like all nonprofit boards, the Preble Street board is responsible for the financial health and fiscal oversight of the agency as well as maintaining and nurturing our mission, and all of our members know what good governance is.
Just as we rely on a variety of assessments to ensure that our programs and services are achieving results, so, too, our financial well-being is frequently scrutinized.
As a private nonprofit agency, Preble Street undergoes a thorough and independent financial audit every year, and our financial statements have received an unqualified opinion from independent auditors for more than 20 years.
In addition to these audits, United Way of Greater Portland conducts a strict and thorough financial and program review of Preble Street every year and has consistently given us high marks for results that meet the needs determined by their comprehensive community assessments.
Preble Street currently has 30 contracts from various government departments — municipal, county, state and federal. Each and every one of them is competitive, includes regular and strict monitoring and evaluation and demands regular reporting on benchmarks and results.
Each of the dozens of private grants awarded to Preble Street also requires outcome reports and fiscal accounting. Preble Street has been invited to present its research findings and the efficacy of its program models in public and private forums throughout the United States.
In addition, Charity Navigator, providing independent evaluation of the financial health and accountability and transparency of 6,000 American charities, has given Preble Street its highest rating.
We invite anyone in the community to come in, take a tour and find out more about our work, and about the neighbors we are helping to lead more stable and productive lives by connecting to health and trauma services, housing and educational and vocational resources.
A recent evening reminded us not only of why we are here, doing this work, but also of how much it is needed.
On Jan. 23, when it was near zero outside, 512 people waited in line to eat dinner at Preble Street. More than 500 people, forced to sit on the floor of a jammed soup kitchen and eat off their laps.
After a chaotic dinner, these same people waited in line at the city shelter hoping for a mat on the floor.
Of course, many could not get in because the building capacity is limited, so they had to sit up in chairs all night in an empty office building.
We at Preble Street look forward to the day we can close our doors because the problems of hunger, poverty and lack of housing have been solved. Until that day arrives, we’ll keep doing our work.
Maurice A. Selinger III is president of the Preble Street board of directors, and Renee Schwalberg is vice president of the board.