Jay Poliziani- Director of Northside Common Ministries
April 22, 2018
This is Alex. The police found Alex sleeping in his car on the Northside and they brought him to The Pleasant Valley shelter for men experiencing homelessness a part of Northside Common Ministries. Alex lost all his money in a financial scheme that a supposed friend had guided him too. As a result of the depression surrounding the loss of his savings he ended up missing lots of work and losing his job. He then lost his apartment. With limited family support Alex found himself sleeping in his car. After a few months staying at the shelter Alex got back to work with the help of the staff in our Neighborhood Employment Center. He had medical issues including his depression addressed through the onsite medical team. He worked with case managers to secure an affordable apartment in the area. He worked with the Utility Assistance program on site to help get the utilities turned on and set up a manageable repayment plan for past due balances. He accessed food from our food pantry which serves as many as 850 households each month and distributes over 10,000 pounds of free fresh produce each month. Our Financial coach helped Alex open up a checking account and helped file his taxes for the previous year. Alex still stops by each week to enjoy lunch and to chat with and to offer encouragement to the street homeless folks that gather during the day at our facility as part of our Daytime Drop-In center. Now Alex parks his car in front of his apartment and he sleeps inside on a comfortable bed.
Northside Common Ministries operates the Pleasant Valley homeless men’s shelter a 25 bed facility which opens its doors 365 days a year. During the course of a year nearly 200 homeless men pass through our doors seeking a safe place to stay for up to four months at a time. NCM operates a Daytime Drop in center which is open 5 days a week to provides a hot meal, and a place to shower and do laundry for the street homeless who live under the bridges and in abandoned buildings around the area.
Volunteers show up every night from churches around the area with pots and pans filled with delicious food to share with the men who stay at the shelter. Your own congregation here at Bellevue Presbyterian has been showing up every third Monday evening with plenty of food to share for several decades. During the day groups of people come from schools and businesses around the city to help prepare and serve the afternoon meal.And every Sunday morning for the past 18 years Bill – also known as the pancake man- has shown up at our Door at 6am with all the fixings for a pancake breakfast for the men in shelter. The support of thousands of Individuals and dozens of local congregations like Bellevue United Presbyterian Church helps guide our work and make certain that we are able to keep our doors open to provide these much needed services.
Pleasant Valley shelter is one part of what we do at Northside Common Ministries. NCM was founded over 30 years ago over a Thanksgiving meal by a group of pastors and dedicated volunteers seeking to answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, cloth the naked. And receive the stranger. We do this every day of the year. 365 days a year the prophet’s call to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God is lived out at Northside Common Ministries.For the past seven years I have been blessed with the opportunity to work as the Director of Northside common Ministries. I have had the pleasure to help lead a small team of dedicated staff and a huge team of very committed volunteers to assure that the mission of our agency is lived out on a daily basis.
The NCM Permanent Housing program offers up to 11 homeless men with disabilities a permanent place to call home. These men are in apartments throughout the city and our staff help them to stay clean and sober and off the streets.
Three mornings each week a team of doctors, therapists, Pharmacists, nurses, housing, veterans and drug and alcohol Specialist set up shop on site at NCM so that the homeless in the area can come to one place and access the services they need. Having all these professionals together in the same place at the same time assures that the homeless individuals they see follow through on the services they need. This project has helped hundreds of homeless people stay healthy and secure in stable housing.
Three mornings a week NCM opens its doors to individuals who are in need of help paying their utility bills. Representatives from the Customer Assistance Program, meet with people to help set up a manageable payment plans for their utility bills.Dozens of people who did not finish high school come to NCM each year to work on their GED.
During tax season volunteers work at our site to help local senior citizens and low income individuals complete their taxes and save thousands of dollars in tax prep fees. Volunteers help make all of that happen. The tax prep service is completely operated by volunteers who help people save tens of thousands of dollars each year.
This is Fatima. Fatima raised most of her 8 kids in refugee camps for over a decade. Now she and her husband are Pittsburgher’s working as low wage hotel housekeepers and barely scrapping by. The rice, beans and fresh produce they access from the food pantry help them make ends meets. Our Food Pantry distributes over 11,000 pounds of fresh free produce every month of the year.
Over 850 food insecure households are served by our community food pantry every month of the year. Our pantry serves the largest number of people in a year of all the pantries in the city. Our food pantry allows our shoppers to shop for what they would like and use rather than just handing them a box of what we have at the time. This helps with waste and offers our clients a higher level of dignity.
Our food pantry the largest between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia has only one paid staff person and literally hundreds of volunteers each year helping to keep the place in operation. Every day that our doors are open people can come in to access free fresh produce. Our goal is to get as much healthy fresh produce into the hands of our customers as possible to help encourage the most healthful possible diets. Individuals who rely on food pantries have the highest rates of preventable diseases like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Our hope is to help reduce those diseases in our customers while helping to reduce their stress and providing a good healthy food options.
In Matthew 25:37-40 we hear the true spirit that keeps the staff, Volunteers and clients at Northside Common Ministries on track. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.Lives are changed every day in positive ways at Northside Common Ministries. But our reality is that not every person that comes to our door is ready to change their lives.
This is tom –he once worked as a Chiropractor, had a home and a family; but for several years as a result of his drug addiction he had cycled in and out of homeless shelters. We offered him all the same resources that were available to our other residents but Tom was not ready. Addiction experts say you need to hit rock bottom before you commit to helping yourself. When I last saw Tom he was living in a tent under a bridge near PNC Park. Most of us would look at that and think this must be rock bottom but for Tom it wasn’t. He knows where to turn when he is ready to make the changes but for now he continues to roam from camp to camp.
Its volunteers from other organizations who show up alongside the medical and social service staff each night to provide services to the street homeless. Helping to keep them safe and healthy and helping to direct them to places like NCM
This is a picture of many of our regular food pantry volunteers –off to the right is Miss Mary. On April 13th she turned 96 however she does lie about her age and says she is 94. Mary takes a bus to the food pantry three mornings a week to hand out meat, eggs and cereal to her food insecure neighbors. Mary is one of the over 1,000 volunteers that help keep our doors open. God’s love is lived out through the example of so many people who volunteer at NCM each day.
Our church partners like Bellevue assure that social justice takes place at Northside common Ministries 365 day a year. Financial support keeps the heat on, but your prayerful support is what keeps our hearts motivated in the right direction and allows us to provide what the men and women we serve truly need – a guiding hand , a listening ear and emotional support. That would not be possible without your continued prayers. Please continue to keep the staff and clients at Northside Common Ministries in your thoughts and prayers.
My favorite church song is Ubi Caritas – in English it translates to Where there is charity and love God is there. –every day that song is lived out at Northside Common Ministries by our countless volunteers. God is there with each of the volunteers that grace our doorstep. God is there on the third Monday of each month when your own team comes to our door with pots and pans filled with food to share with their brothers in need who stay at Pleasant Velley Men’s shelter. God has is there right alongside with Barbara Gusew as she has led the Bellevue mission to serve meals at the shelter since 1987.
Over the three decades that Barbara has led the tem there were many volunteers who donated cakes, helped prepare the meals, transport the food, serve the meals, and help clean up. A few of those dedicated volunteers that helped Barbara so much where Alice Wisnieski, Mark Coleman, Paul Cusick, Dennis Wisnieski, the Bellevue UP Youth Group, Jack Lolla, Jack and Barbara Gusew, James and Sandy Hacke. Her husband, Alfred Gusew, was a constant support in this ministry driving and helping serve meals until his health prevented him. Barbara served over 11,800 meals to 25-30 men each month at the shelter. Only two times did snow stop her from personally serving meals, but the snow did not keep her from making sure the food was delivered to the shelter for the men. Over the years she served a variety of meals including ham, chicken, spaghetti and meat balls, hamburgers and hot dogs in the summer. But Barbara was most known for her delicious roast beef dinners that everyone loved.
Barbara please allow me to offer my personal thanks as well as the thanks of the literally thousands of men over the years whom you helped nourish as they struggled to get back on their feet. Let me offer thanks to you on behalf of all of the folks here at Bellevue United Presbyterian Church who have worked alongside you as prepared and served meals at the shelter. Barbara please stand so that we can all show our gratitude for your years of service.