|HAC CEO Rick Presbrey (left) with Paul Rifkin of Falmouth.
A little less than a year ago, a tourist visiting this part of the state wrote a letter to the Cape Cod Times complaining about the homeless in Hyannis.
That one letter kicked off heated dialogue, both in the press and online. Some agreed with the visitor while others, like Paul Rifkin, staunchly opposed the sentiment. “It sparked an outrage in my brain,” he said. “I get offended when the concept of ‘the other’ becomes something less than human and something to be vilified, something to be looked down upon, something to be ignored.”
And so Rifkin, the former owner of the Moonakis Café in Falmouth, contacted Alan Burt, co-founder of the nonprofit Homeless Not Hopeless, Inc. in Hyannis, in hopes of turning the negative discourse into tangible, positive action.
A meeting in Falmouth at the Waquoit Congregational Church was held this past fall, the first step towards enacting change in Rifkin’s hometown. “I called the meeting of people who might be interested in doing something to help Falmouth’s homeless, or houseless, population and a lot of people came to the meeting and there was a lot of interest and energy,” Rifkin said.
Rifkin has relied upon those like Burt and HAC CEO Rick Presbrey, who attended that first meeting and several since, to help guide Falmouth’s efforts to care for its homeless. Presbrey said the goals of the Falmouth contingent are similar to those of a group he is a part of in Hyannis which “is to begin helping people who are homeless remain in their home communities.”
The formula is simple – each town finds ways of serving its homeless internally. In Falmouth, the plan that took shape had a short-term and long-term approach that looked like this – over the winter, provide temporary housing for homeless men and women while trying to secure permanent housing where anywhere from four to eight individuals can receive the services they need in a safe, secure environment in order for them to move forward with their lives.
|Alan Burt (right) speaks at a recent HAC fundraiser while NOAH Shelter director Greg Bar looks on. Burt is lending his expertise to Falmouth’s efforts to assist its homeless population.
While St. Barnabas Episcopal Church offered to house the homeless this winter, state fire codes prohibited that from happening and so an alternative was found: the Falmouth Inn. Relying on church funds and private donations, the volunteer group has been able to provide temporary shelter in recent months to 15 homeless men and women, ranging in age from 20 to 80 years old, as part of a longstanding initiative known as Overnights of Hospitality.
Prior to this pilot program, Burt said that one 80-year-old woman with serious medical conditions had been sleeping in her car for several months. “That troubles me,” Burt said. “The cause of homelessness is not providing enough affordable housing. We all know this so it is troubling to think that we’ve got people suffering and dying on our streets.”
For Rifkin, that was one of the primary motivations for helping to start this grassroots effort. “I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and look at The Falmouth Enterprise and read that someone froze to death,” he said.
HAC’s role in all of this is to provide the support and expertise of those like Presbrey. “We bring another set of skills which is not of any use in helping with Overnights of Hospitality except financially, in terms of raising money, and buying real estate,” he said.
Currently, Presbrey is working with Rifkin to identify potential buildings that could serve to house the homeless as well as finding donors who could help fund such a purchase. And then, it will be on to the next town.
“We’re hoping that Falmouth is the first of several communities to undertake such an effort,” Presbrey said.
“If all the towns do even a little thing, it becomes a big thing for the Cape in addressing homelessness,” Burt added.
And in the process, there is a real difference being made, not only in the lives of those who are homeless, but those who are helping them. “What I have found, and a lot of the volunteers in the program have too, is we’re not just helping the homeless,” Rifkin said. “We’re helping ourselves. It makes you feel good to do this for other people. It makes you feel good that you are serving others.”
|Support Falmouth’s Efforts
Contributions are still needed to assist Falmouth as it works to house its homeless men and women through the end of March. Donations can be made by check and mailed to:
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
P.O. Box 203, Falmouth, MA 02541
NOTE: Please write “Belonging to Each Other” in the memo line
Those looking to volunteer are encouraged to email Ellie Shaver at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.