Cliff is one of more than 550 participants in our Housing First program who was previously homeless, and is now stably housed, thanks to the support of generous donors. Here’s his story:
Cliff is a long-standing participant in the Pathways to Housing program and has been a beacon of light since he joined the program 11 years ago after spending 9 years experiencing homelessness. Through the supports he found within the Pathways to Housing community, Cliff was able to secure an apartment and foster relationships with staff and fellow participants. As he became more secure, his desire to give back to his community grew.
“About 2 years ago, I started going to work out daily at the YMCA. Every Monday I would see a group of people standing in line waiting to get food. One Monday, I finally found the courage to stop and ask the man running it, what was going on, to see if I could get involved. The man told me that this was a weekly food drive, run by a local organization. He said that it is open to anyone in need and that I was welcome to stop by to get whatever food was available. I explained that I had plenty of food, but what I wanted to do was to give back. To be of service. To help support my community. So that’s how I started to volunteer.”
While the organization has been operating for nearly 22 years, Cliff has been volunteering with them for a little over two years. He started with organizing the food, moved on to organizing paperwork, and finally graduating to running and operating his own food drive sites throughout the city.
“Let me tell you how I got to be in charge,” Cliff says with a smile. “One day, I saw a man waiting in the back of the line who appeared to be disabled, I wanted to see if we could move him to the front of the line so he wouldn’t have to stand and wait for hours. When I went to go ask the man in charge, he turned to me and told me “Your voice is my voice.” In that moment I had so much joy and pride in my heart because I understood what he meant. From that day on we were running things together.”
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cliff and the other volunteers have noticed an increased need for food security throughout the city. Cliff, who began running his first food drive location this year, has added two additional locations to his list to try to combat food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cliff says that the most rewarding part of this work is the relationships you make and seeing the positive impact you can have on the community. “After I’ve gone away on vacation, when I come back, I’ve had complete strangers come up to me and tell me how much they have missed me. I have become sort of celebrity in some of these communities because I add humor and personality to the work. People will come up to me and welcome me back and tell me how much they appreciate me. That’s happened a few times now and it just makes me feel so good.”
We strive to help our participants live in their community and to be valued just like everyone else. Our staff walks alongside participants, wherever they are on their path of life and support them in the places where they want support. Ultimately, we want to empower participants to make their own decisions. Cliff has reclaimed his life to the point where he is looked at as a key member of his community who chooses to give back in his spare time. Pathways is proud of the work being done by Cliff and we look to him as an inspiration.
Though Cliff has found stability in his new home, there are more than 1,100 people living unsheltered on the streets of Philadelphia with nowhere to turn. Thanks to our supporters, Cliff's story has a happy ending. If you'd like to help others find stability, please consider making a donation today!