Former homeless man vows to pay it forward
Two years ago, a group of churchgoers arrived at the apartment of a former homeless woman whom they had helped find housing and discovered her asleep on the floor in a bare room.
Alarmed, they dug through their homes and called friends and family to scrounge up all the furniture they could find until her apartment became a home. This was the birth of Wings Advocacy Fresno, a ministry that provides free home furnishings for former homeless and helps those living on the streets obtain California identification cards at the DMV – a crucial first step in obtaining housing.
The work is filling a niche in the region that’s not covered by government funds.
“Imagine you have an apartment, but there’s nothing in it,” says Shawn Jenkins, senior vice president of the California region of WestCare, which helps house homeless, among other services. “You don’t have a bed, no pots and pans to cook with, no nothing. So Wings is instrumental and a huge partner in this because they can do some of the things that we can’t do. … And it’s the passion and the compassion that they show.”
The small touches – that might just make the difference for someone struggling with mental illness or an addiction or hard time in life. A bed and pillow and the dignity to have a cup of coffee in the morning.
Anna Hecker, president of Wings Advocacy Fresno
The majority of people Wings helps are referred by the Marjaree Mason Center, a shelter for domestic abuse victims and their children, San Joaquin Valley Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Earlier this year, the furniture bank found a permanent home in a Fresno warehouse. Its grand opening on Thursday marked another milestone: 600 former homeless provided with home furnishings – including 227 children and 80 veterans. The 600th Wings client, Matthew Brewster, was at the event to share his thanks.
“It turns your place into a home,” Brewster says of the furnishings he’s received. “It gives some type of comfort, safety.”
It lets the folks see that they still have value and they are still cared about and they are worth investing in. That’s one of the big things that Wings brings.
Shawn Jenkins, senior vice president of WestCare’s California region
The 27-year-old Fresno man was living out of his car while working at a hardware store and saving money to find a new home after a divorce when a vehicle accident left him on the streets for several months.
“For some it (homelessness) is a choice, but for others it is a sequence of unfortunate things that happen in their life,” Brewster says, “so therefore they get so down … they feel like they can’t dig out of it, they can’t tell anybody.”
He eventually found help through the Fresno Rescue Mission, and when he was able to move into a new apartment, Wings was there to welcome him. The nonprofit gave him a couch, bar stool, dishes, towels, chairs, a lamp and a new mattress. Wings doesn’t accept used mattresses; it buys new ones with donations received.
It’s meant a lot. You get a place but the furniture – little things – wow. It was a blessing, a true blessing.
“Our motto is: No one deserves junk,” Wings president Anna Hecker says.
But it was the smallest of gifts – a care package with soap and other toiletries – that meant the most. It showed Brewster they really cared about him, and that meant the world.
Brewster is also the father of two young sons, who are now able to visit him in his new apartment. He says the furniture makes his sons feel more “comfortable and confident” in their new home together.
“It was a blessing,” he says, “a true blessing.”
Donate to Wings Advocacy Fresno
Tax-deductible donations of gently used home furnishings can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for pickup and drop-off information. Checks can be made out to Wings Advocacy Fresno and mailed to 1099 E. Champlain Drive, Ste. #A80, Fresno 93720. Monetary donations go to purchasing new mattresses, which cost the group up to $4,000 a month.