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Ted Williams story – dePaul House commentary

by | Jan 29, 2011 | Vincentian Family | 1 comment

Charles Levesque, executive director of Depaul USA, a homeless-services charity reflects on the feel-good story of Ted Wiliams, the homeless man with the golden voice. “Williams’ saga is not just a story of an individual given a chance to triumph over adversity. It’s also a potent reminder of the incalculable costs of homelessness – the talents, skills, and possibilities society forfeits when people lose their homes and their way.” As you read this commentary keep in mind these questions…

  • How many ted Williams are there?
  • How many have you ever taken the time to listen to?
  • As a family  John Paul II challenged to look at “underlying causes and long-term colutions” how can we collaborate?

What the region’s homeless need

As featured in The Philadelphia Enquirer 19th Jan 2011.

By Charles W. Levesque

The feel-good story of this young year was about Ted Williams, the homeless Columbus, Ohio, man with the golden voice. Williams’ encounter with a newspaper journalist resulted in a fleet, Internet-assisted reversal of fortune. After a video of him speaking in his plummy baritone went viral, he was offered voice-over and broadcasting jobs, reunited with his estranged mother, and whisked to New York for an appearance on the Today show.

One couldn’t help but be moved by the story. Trained as a broadcaster, Williams ended up homeless after struggles with drugs and alcohol. Now he has a chance to break the chains of addiction and homelessness.

Such a chance won’t come as easily to the 2,000 Philadelphians who spend each night in homeless shelters and the 500 others living on city streets. It will require sustainable funding, more collaboration among agencies serving the homeless, deeper partnerships with the business community, and public commitment to ending this scourge.

Philadelphia is blessed with well-known, effective programs for the homeless, including Project H.O.M.E., the Salvation Army, Covenant House, and Bethesda Project. My organization’s Depaul House, in Germantown, helps three-quarters of its residents make the transition to a job, a home, and a small savings account within a year. Residents get an array of services – job-readiness training, continuing education, mental-health counseling – but they come at a cost, and the program is small. Depaul House serves only 25 men at a time, and government funding covers only 60 percent of its costs.

Agencies serving the homeless typically cobble together government funds, foundation grants, and individual donations for support, and all three legs of this stool are wobbly. Governments are facing mounting deficits, and taxpayers are reluctant to pay for additional services. Foundations cannot fund programs in perpetuity. And individual giving has declined in the economic downturn.

A new business model is needed. Unfortunately, it’s not clear what that model is. Should shelter housing be increasingly incorporated into and subsidized by market-rate housing? Should every new housing facility for the homeless contain space that can be rented to generate income? Should shelters launch more social enterprises or purchase business franchises to generate revenue and employ residents? Or will such activities distract them from their core missions and diminish their efficacy?

What is clear is that, in an era of limited resources, collaboration among homeless organizations is essential. Innovative collaborations draw on the expertise of each agency, reduce administrative costs, bring new perspectives, and avoid duplication.

Here, too, Philadelphia boasts good models, including Connelly House, a joint housing initiative of Project H.O.M.E. and Bethesda Project. Depaul House is providing staff to Project H.O.M.E.’s winter respite shelter for women, which will reduce the cost of the program and train Depaul’s staff to serve a new population. With the looming closure of the 300-bed Ridge Avenue Shelter, collaboration will be even more essential.

For many, the key to ending homelessness is employment. But hiring the homeless often means taking a risk on people with spotty work histories, past struggles with substance abuse, and criminal records. The challenge is even greater in the current economy. A job bank formed as a partnership between homeless agencies and businesses should be a goal for the Philadelphia region.

Real progress in fighting homelessness will also require recalibrating public attitudes. Homelessness as a cause has lost its cachet, and public patience with the homeless is short.

This is where the Williams story can help. Williams’ saga is not just a story of an individual given a chance to triumph over adversity. It’s also a potent reminder of the incalculable costs of homelessness – the talents, skills, and possibilities society forfeits when people lose their homes and their way.

Charles Levesque is executive director of Depaul USA, a homeless-services charity. He can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Derrick

    Don’t get me wrong I love the fact that Ted Williams is using his Gift. I think the better story is that we all have Gifts from God and when we utilize them they will make room for us just like the Guy with the Golden Voice.

    Learn Your Gift Today:

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