In a very real sense, the Interfaith Homelessness Network was founded by Clement McMenemy. He wasn’t aware of it, however; he was dead at the time. Let me explain.
Clement McMenemy was a decorated Viet Nam veteran, who had returned from the war wounded in mind and spirit. Today he would be diagnosed with PTSD and treated; two decades ago he was simply a man who “couldn’t get along” with his family and took to living on the street. In 2001 he began coming to the noon free lunch program at Saint Leander’s Catholic Church in San Leandro. He soon began attending their church services, and became a close friend of Michael Alberts and Deacon Dennis Davis. Then, one cold morning, late in October, he was found dead at a local construction site.
Everyone was shocked and saddened, and then angry; many said, “This should not happen, here in San Leandro!” A public meeting was organized, to be held at St. Leanders; almost a hundred people showed up. There were presentations about homelessness, followed by breaking up into small groups to brainstorm possible actions. It quickly became apparent that more information was going to be needed. With the holidays fast approaching, they decided to meet together again in early 2002; groups would do research and present their proposals at that time.
On February 28, 2002, the follow-up meeting was held at the First United Methodist Church, facilitated by Elaine deColigny, Administrator of the San Leandro Women’s Shelter. Presentations were made by Fr. Bob Mendonca, Garry Loeffler, Michael Alberts, and Deacon Dennis Davis. It was decided to form an organization that would, along with other long-term goals, begin providing showers at the Boys and Girls Club, if possible, “by the end of March.”
As soon as approval by the Boys and Girls Club was received, a call went out to local churches for supplies -soap, shampoo, wash cloths, towels, new underwear and socks, - and volunteers. A plan was formulated, supplies sorted, volunteers trained, flyers handed out to homeless persons, and on April 7, 2002, the first showers were held. Seven homeless persons showed up, showered, and showed great appreciation for the new program. Someone asked what the program was called, and – nobody knew. In the rush to get ready, no name had been chosen. Someone said, “Well, there were showers, and it’s April, so call it ‘April Showers’ for now”. A decade later, it’s still “April Showers”.
For a while, it was only showers. Then when someone pointed out that the local food pantries and “soup kitchens” were closed on Sundays, it was decided to offer sack lunches. Several churches took turns making them. When the weather got cold, hot soup was added. Our guests’ need for laundry services was discussed; eventually a deal was struck with a laundromat to accept vouchers from us for laundry services for them. As time went on, and resources became available, other items and services were added: used clothing, haircuts, flu shots, Census forms, and referrals to various medical and social services.
IHN continues to operate as an all-volunteer organization ; there is no paid staff. A Steering Committee meets monthly to evaluate and administer the program. Except for a small grant in 2010 for Census outreach, we are funded entirely by donations from individuals and organizations, both religious and secular. Today, the “Best Practice” of dealing with homelessness is to get homeless persons into housing first, and deal with their mental and physical problems there, eventually ending homelessness. Our type of program doesn’t fit this model, and is therefore considered “irrelevant” by most funding agencies. At some point in the future, when there is enough housing to accommodate all of the persons we serve, we will agree, and gladly close our doors. Until then, we will be here to serve “the last, the least, and the lost”.
Interfaith Homelessness Network Mailing address: 911 Dowling Blvd. , San Leandro, CA 94577
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Cornerstone Community Development Corp. provides fiscal sponsorship services to IHN. Fed ID# 94-3100741
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