Ed Irelan’s years working with recently released convicts brought him to the realization of a basic need in the community.
It was this experience and the way the convicts he worked with often struggled to find homes that led him to the Off the Streets program, already in practice in the Northeast.
Mr. Irelan, a justice ministry coordinator with Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Toledo, brought Off the Streets to Toledo in December. Since then, he has helped more than 30 homeless individuals around the Toledo area get settled into apartments and homes.
The organization, which is operating solely through donations, pays the security deposit on a home or apartment to eliminate a barrier many have to a permanent residence.
“I’ve gotten a couple grants to help out with paying rents because we pay a lot of rents,” Mr. Irelan said. “I knew my grants were running out, so I was looking for a vehicle to continue to help these people”
Off the Streets was founded in 2009 by Michael Oles, a deacon in Danbury, Conn., and a veteran of homeless shelter work who saw the benefits of scraping together funds to put homeless people in permanent homes. Over the next 12 years, the program has picked up a second Connecticut chapter in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania chapters in Lancaster and Susquehanna, and a chapter in Wenatchee Valley, Wash.
The Toledo chapter has the added benefit of working with the furniture ministry at Epworth United Methodist Church in Ottawa Hills to furnish the homes.
“This is really basic to our faith,” Mr. Irelan said. “We are helping people on the margins. When you get someone into housing, it is life-changing.”
Officials at the organization describe the transformative effect that having a home can have on a homeless person. It is often the case, they said, that those reaching out to the program just need a boost to get to housing stability and that’s where Off the Streets comes in.
“A lot of people are living in their cars and so forth,” said John Hunt, president of Off the Streets. “They could probably afford to pay their rent, but maybe they don’t have the ability to come up with the deposit and the first month rent, so our purpose is to make that deposit for them. A lot of these people are working; it’s just that, for whatever reason, they are homeless, and we are trying to encourage people to get them in a place where they can live a regular life.”
One way in which Off the Streets ensures success for those they help is requiring a referral from a person or organization, often from another charitable entity.
While the program was in its infancy, Deacon Oles was invited to speak before officials from the Diocese of Toledo and organizations and the Knights of Columbus about the “Off the Streets” model, which garnered immediate donations from those present. Those in charge of Off the Streets feel that they can achieve similar success on a wide scale very soon once word gets out about who they are and what they do.
“We’re going to move a lot more quickly once people know about us,” Mr. Hunt said.
Mr. Irelan echoed this sentiment and expressed faith in the sustainability of the model as the organization starts to get its operation up and running. Mr. Irelan said this cyclical and sustainable attitude even extends to some of the individuals in his program, as they often express a desire to volunteer and give back.
“A lot of people are living for this,” Mr. Irelan said of the opportunity for a homeless person to have a permanent residence. “It changes the whole way they look at life, and the way they look at society because they are being reintegrated. These people get really bitter because they don’t see themselves getting any help, and some are really frustrated, because it’s like they’re walking around in circles all the time, and they can’t get anything done, so this is very spiritually life-giving.”
Those needing housing assistance who think they may qualify for Off the Streets should contact Catholic Charities at 419-244-6711, Mr. Irelan directly at 419-214-4958, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Toledo at www.svdptoledo.org, or one of the Knights of Columbus locations in the city of Toledo at www.kofc.org.
Contact Vincent Lucarelli at: