Vinfen helps people who have psychiatric conditions and are homeless get back on their feet and find a place to call home. This December, a local senior from Mashpee Middle-High School organized an opportunity to give back to the homeless by donating backpacks that were full of toiletries and essential items individuals need in their everyday lives. Through a partnership with Vinfen, established by ACCS Assistant Team Leader Lisa Holmes and Mashpee Teacher Aphrodite Purdy, Vinfen’s Homeless Outreach and Engagement Team (HOET) was then able to distribute these backpacks to homeless people in Hyannis. Last year 19 backpacks were given out. This year 47 backpacks have been distributed and the donation efforts will continue through the new few months.
Items for the backpacks were donated by individual community members and local businesses on the Cape. Peer Recovery Specialist Tammy Szymakowski has been a part of the team for 7 years. “We work a lot in the community. We work with the police department, hospitals, Duffy Health Center. There is a lot of people that are joining together,” Tammy explained. “We collaborate with a lot of agencies that are on the Cape. There is a lot that we do,” Outreach Worker Lavard Blanche added.
Lavard Blanche has been working for Vinfen for over 24 years with his most recent years as a member of the HOET. “Vinfen is a great organization to work for. The people are nice. The people we serve, we try our very best to help them out as much as possible,” Lavard shared. Originally only planning on staying with Vinfen for a few years, Lavard truly loves what he does and enjoys giving back to his community. “We try to provide a sense of direction as to housing, financial situations, financial benefits, mental health services as well,” Lavard notes.
This is just one of many efforts done by Vinfen staff to make sure the homeless population feels supported by its community. During the holiday season, the HOET staff also organized a holiday celebration with a generous donation from Market Basket. They were able to purchase food items and set up a beautiful spread at the Coffee House, a local meeting area provided by The Federated Church of Hyannis that is open on Monday and Wednesdays for a few hours every week for the homeless population to gather, get coffee, learn about Vinfen services and resources, and ultimately get the help that they need.
The Coffee House has been running since 2012. “Our Team Leader Gene Carey came up with the idea and right now since 2012 over 12,000 people have gone through there,” Tammy noted. Having a dedicated space to come and learn about resources is essential in the efforts to support the homeless population.
The HOET staff never turns someone looking for help down and want people to know that they are their advocates. “Its nice to see when you work with somebody and they will get a job or they will get housing, and when we met them months ago they had a lot of problems going on in their life. Then you see them a few months later and it looks like a totally different person,” Tammy explained.
HOET works hard every day to help the homeless population. Even if giving out a business card is the most an individual wants at the time, there is always hope they will give Vinfen a call and seek out resources to start building back their lives. “No two days are the same. We have had tremendous support over the years,” shared Gene. “The community interest in the needs of the homeless have been and will be the best resource in addressing the issues around homelessness.”
Pictured above Outreach Worker Lavard Blanche, Peer Recovery Specialist Tammy Szymakowski, Team Leader Gene Carey, and Clinician Frances Bradshaw