It’s easy to say that William Lorch is an average working man with an oversized heart.
With the help of a few other motivated individuals, the Bridesburg resident is making it his mission to help those who have lost — or are at risk of losing — everything.
Lorch and a group of volunteers have mounted an organization called Help 4 Homeless Families, specifically to extend a helping hand to down-and-out people in the city.
The organization — HFHF for short — hopes to focus on those who have fallen on hard times, those who want to better themselves but don’t have the means, Lorch said.
It has been in existence since early February, inspired by an encounter that Lorch and his family had with a young woman who was unable to care for her children, he said during an interview last week.
While he didn’t want to share her name, Lorch said the woman visited his wife at work in a pediatrician’s office and said she couldn’t care for her two children because she was going to become homeless.
To help the woman get back on her feet, Lorch took in her infant son.
Lorch’s niece, Phoebe Cowley, a co-founder of Help 4 Homeless Families, took in the woman’s year-and-a-half-old daughter.
“Now, there’s a whole lot more to her story,” said Lorch. “But DHS (the Department of Human Services) is involved. We are helping them out and fostering them (the children) until the mother and father can straighten themselves out. Right now, they just aren’t able to.”
He said that his niece has become involved despite many obligations of her own, including children at home to take care of.
Lorch was happy to take in the 3-month-old boy, noting that many shelters in the city can’t accommodate families.
And there often are tough rules and stipulations, he added.
“My way of thinking is, if somebody is going to be homeless, I don’t care if you give me a spot on the floor and a blanket for me and my kids to sleep,” said Lorch. “If you are a family at one of these shelters, they often break you up. No kids should be separated from their parents because they’re homeless.”
Tricia Shore, an advocate for the homeless who has worked with the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker organization that often supported homeless people throughout the long City Hall encampment during Occupy Philly, said she had encountered this problem firsthand.
While recently aiding a married couple who were homeless, she said, they couldn’t get into a shelter because of their desire to stay together.
Shelters often split up men, women and children, said Shore.
“It just makes it easier for them to control the population that way,” she said.
While there are some shelters that cater to homeless families — she cited the Apple Tree Family Center, at 1430 Cherry St., as an example — these shelters simply cannot accommodate the volume of homeless families in the city.
Laura Weinbaum, director of public policy for Project HOME, a high-profile advocacy group in the city, said that placing entire families in shelters is often “something of a challenge.”
“Family demand, across the board, is up,” she said.
As for Lorch, his organization has big plans for the future.
Right now, it mainly posts and shares resources for homeless individuals on its Facebook page (online at http://www.facebook.com/groups/helpforhomelessfamilies).
The group already has helped a few individuals that way, Lorch said. It also has a full board mdash; he’s chairman and the others are vice chairman Chris Wons, secretary Theresa Stahl, public relations specialist Jill Zgrzepski and treasurer Tom Potts, who also is community engagement director for the New Kensington Community Development Corp.
Eventually, though, he and the others would like to offer transitional housing, job training, life-skills courses and more.
But, there are a lot of other things to take care of first.
“At this time we can’t apply for grants … we can’t apply for anything, really,” he said. “We may be able to go to a local business and say we want to get some things to help fix up a house. But, until you actually get licensed and things like that, nobody really wants to help you out. So, we opened this up to the public. And we’re just trying to get the help we can from everybody for now.”
While the group is trying to obtain non-profit certification, it’s a long and complicated procedure, said Lorch. “We are at the first step, but we aren’t any further than that,” he said.
Yet he still wants to help anyone he can. However, he cautioned, he’s not eager to reach out to those who hope to take advantage of the system.
“Before all this, I probably thought like everyone else does: ‘Most people want to be homeless. They don’t want to go to shelters. They don’t want to get help.’ But that’s not the case,” said Lorch. “Most people can’t get help, or the help that they can get is not the help that they want. We’re not saying that we’re just going to take anybody in and help them. We want to help people who want to be helped.”
Lorch said he sees a lot of suffering and injustice in the riverwards, and he hopes the new organization can help fill the gaps, especially for families that have fallen on hard times.
“We want to help people who want to help themselves. We don’t just want to take the guy in or the woman in or the family in,” he said. ldquo;I mean, if a family comes to me and the parents ain’t willing to help themselves, I’ll be the first one on the phone to DHS and say, ‘I have kids that need help’. But, if you come to us and say ‘I’m willing to work at McDonald’s for minimum wage, but if I do I’m going to lose my welfare or I’m going to lose my insurance’ … that’s what were fighting for.”
He wants to see his organization make a significant impact, one big enough to be “talked about in California,” within the next 10 years.
Lorch said the group will be hosting a beef-and-beer as part of its efforts to afford a building that can be converted to a homeless shelter. The organization has an account at 3rd Federal Bank, at Memphis and York streets, to manage any donations. ••
For more information, visit the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/groups/helpforhomelessfamilies.
There also is information on a beef-and-beer fund-raiser that will be held April 21 at the Walter D. Palmer Charter School. Tickets are $25 and all proceeds will be put toward purchasing a building that the organization could use as a shelter for homeless families.
Additional reporting by Hayden Mitman, managing editor.