Helping homeless help themselves Advocate believes personal approach is key to success


During his freshman year at Harvard College, Showly Nicholson volunteered at the Harvard Square homeless shelter because he wanted to help. Instead, he felt helpless.

“I didn’t feel like I made a big difference,” he said. “I wanted to help someone get out of their situation. I was tired of just giving spare change and food.”

Nicholson spent six months there as part of the Resource Advocate Program, which helps with employment, housing, education and health services for shelter guests. That’s where he met a former Cambridge resident who inspired him to try a different approach.

The homeless man, who requested anonymity, was a former accountant, and often skipped meals at the shelter to apply for housing or work on his resume. Nicholson was inspired by his determination.

After years of steady work, the man, in his late 40s, found himself out of a job when the economy soured. Without any savings, he couldn’t afford to pay his rent. “Frequently, for over two months, I spent the night at South Station and pretended to be a passenger waiting to go somewhere,” said the shelter guest, who’s been without a place to live for nearly five years.“Many times I went close to a shelter but would turn back. I eventually went to Woods Mullen and got in and stood next to my bed most of the night. The realization was very depressing.”

A year later, Nicholson crowd funded nearly $2,000 for the man, who would be the first candidate for a program he developed to help the homeless get back on their feet, one at a time. They are still in the process of looking for housing, which Nicholson said has been the most difficult task.

“A person’s own dedication and ability can get them out of homelessness faster than it would take through government programs,” said Nicholson. “Often they just need someone that they know cares for them and wants them to get out of their situation. Someone who knows they’re a human being.”

Nicholson has earmarked the money to cover three months of rent as well as food, clothes and transportation, and helped him develop his resume. After landing a temporary position as an accounting clerk at a local university, both Nicholson and his recipient are confident about the chances of that leading to a full-time job within his field.

Nicholson hopes to help five candidates before looking for backing to make a name for the project. “Homelessness is a really personalized problem,” said Nicholson. “For each individual there are a lot of factors contributing to why they are homeless, and with each candidate, we have to figure out how to cater to those issues.”


Article from The Boston Herald, Tuesday, October 14th, Written by Nikki Chase