Steve Donofrio | OC Weekly | February 20,2019

Few challenges have pervaded our society as long and consistently as homelessness. Unfortunately, it seems to have only worsened in recent years. In fact, the number of homeless people in Santa Ana alone is said to have doubled from the beginning of 2017 to early 2018. Of course, there are plenty of small things that we can all do to help the homeless. However, aren’t acts that merely help someone sustain a life on the streets somewhat short-sighted? Whether it’s giving a little bit of spare change or even providing shelter, these acts are helpful and oftentimes much needed, but it’s important that we ask ourselves how we can work towards eradicating homelessness as a whole.

That’s how Off the Street, Back to Work, an aptly named nonprofit, was founded. One day, at a board meeting for Priority Workforce, a Tustin-based staffing agency, some executives had a similar conversation. They came to the conclusion that, by utilizing their position as one of the most reputable staffing agencies in Orange County, they could help homeless get employed and therefore could play a larger part in the seemingly endless battle against homelessness. 

Off the Street, Back to Work is dedicated to helping “job-ready” homeless people find employment. As co-founder RoseMary Polenski puts it, “There are some people who were down on their luck and now they’re doing well and we want to put them back to work.” For being such a new organization (the aforementioned board meeting took place not even three months ago), they’re making sizable steps towards this ambitious goal.

For starters, they’ve recently partnered with Orange County Rescue Mission, which differs from most homeless shelters and soup kitchens on a very fundamental level: they are focused on more long-term solutions for homelessness. This is why they’re the best fit, at least as OTSBTW’s first official partner. “Their whole program is getting people ready to go back to work,” says RoseMary, “A lot of places don’t do that. They just bring people in, dress them up and try to help them out, but this is a program that helps them with everything: their reading, their writing, their resumes, [and] their interviewing skills. We spoke with and toured a lot of places, but Orange County Rescue Mission is the one that really hit home for us.”

Not only will OTSBTW work to place graduates from Orange County Rescue Mission in jobs, but they’re also planning on volunteering their time and resources to host workshops there. This kind of teamwork and forward thinking stand a chance at tackling the larger issue of homelessness while also helping those who have been affected by it. Part of Off the Street, Back to Work’s philosophy is that, “If many of those who have found themselves on the street for whatever reason are able to integrate back into the workplace, they will not only be able to take care of themselves financially (and in many cases, their families), they will also effectively discover and rebuild a newfound sense of self-esteem.” In other words,  OTSBTW wants to keep people from returning to the streets once they find employment.

Perhaps more of us should adopt this type of long-term thinking about homelessness. As Off the Street, Back to Work shows us, you don’t have to be a part of an existing organization to come up with a solution. This particular nonprofit was simply formed by a group of people who wanted to utilize their skills and connections to give  back to their community. Now imagine what we could accomplish if we all did that.

Visit offthestreetbacktowork.com for more information.

Steve Donofrio

Steve Donofrio

OC Weekly