Simply hoping to help

Help 4 Home­less Fam­il­ies founder Wil­li­am Lorch began a com­munity group to sup­port the home­less — and nearly home­less — throughout the river­wards after he opened his home to a needy child.

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.face­­forhome­less­fam­il­ies).

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.face­­forhome­less­fam­il­ies.

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.

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