How OTS operates
Off The Streets (OTS) volunteers establish relationships with homeless people through their presence as volunteers at shelters and soup kitchens. In this way, they get to know the homeless as individuals. This familiarity develops into a relationship of mutual respect and trust. Homeless individuals are encouraged to get Off The Streets and the OTS volunteers will review their financial situation and overall background. If they have an income source (job, disability, social security or other), then the volunteers work with them and assist them in finding a landlord to sign a lease. Off The Streets generally will pay the security deposit and cover other upfront expenses. Even if someone does not have a source of income, Off The Streets will meet with them to provide advice and counsel.
Since most homeless have very little in the way of possessions, when someone is ready to move into a room or apartment, OTS provides nonperishable food, linens and bedding, kitchen supplies and furniture (generally beds, dressers, end tables, table and chairs) to get them settled in.
The whole process of getting someone Off The Streets can generally accomplished in one to two weeks, and there are a number of occasions where the whole process of transitioning from homelessness to a fully furnished apartment has been accomplished in a day or two.
In addition to the process described above, OTS may get referrals from social services agencies. Many of these agencies are limited in what they can do in the way of assistance. Off The Streets will partner with them by providing a security deposit, which is often the only thing preventing someone from being housed.
However, for many formerly homeless people, retaining housing is a significant challenge. Many people have made bad decisions in the past which led to them being homeless. That’s the reason mentors are assigned for ongoing support. Mentors are assigned to people as they are placed into housing to work on resolving crises that may arise and just to be a friend to talk to.
Finally, Off The Streets also does the following:
- When working with homeless people, OTS always tries to understand their family situation. If someone has family members in another city or state who are willing to take them in but they have no funds to travel, Off The Streets will buy a bus, train, or airline ticket to return them home.
Many people ask – how many of the people taken Off The Streets have successfully stayed housed? We’ve tracked the first 85 people that we’ve placed in housing, and found that 83% are still housed. Off The Streets works with high risk chronically homeless people that have tried and failed before, so we don’t anticipate a 100% success rate. We feel even if we can get one person permanently Off The Streets, it’s worth all our efforts.
Here’s a downloadable copy of our information brochure
Background of OTS
Off the Streets was founded by Deacon Michael Oles, a long term volunteer at Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury CT. Like Off the Streets, Dorothy Day House is staffed completely by volunteers, and provides meals to 80-120 people each day and shelter to 16 people every night. When Deacon Oles was asked to speak about homelessness to a group of middle school religious education students, he brought along some homeless people to tell their stories. The students were so moved by the stories that they sent money to Deacon Oles to get these people into housing. However, Deacon Oles had no experience in getting people into housing (it’s a lot different than cooking meals in a soup kitchen or manning an overnight shelter). After some procrastination, he succeeded in finding apartments and paid the security deposit with the students funds.
After this success, the word got out on the street that Deacon Mike could get people out of homelessness into housing. Unsolicited contributions from church groups and individuals continued to flow in, and more people were placed in housing. In September 2009, Deacon Mike recruited a number of volunteers, and Off the Streets was formed as a non-profit organization. Since that time, the basic mission has not changed but activities have expanded to include furniture delivery and mentoring.
In October 2011, Off The Streets was recognized with a Community Partnership Award from the Danbury Housing Partnership. In April 2016, OTS Lancaster was recognized as the Tabor Housing Partner of the Year.