Weekly Feature



2015-02-04 / Lifestyles

Friends of Night People dishes up food, caring to homeless

by KATHERINE COLEMAN
Reporter


Volunteers Geoffrey Jones and Lisa Keukelaar serve dinner to clients at Friends of Night People. The food kitchen serves meals from 5 to 7 p.m. 365 days a year. 
Photos by Chuck SkipperPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Volunteers Geoffrey Jones and Lisa Keukelaar serve dinner to clients at Friends of Night People. The food kitchen serves meals from 5 to 7 p.m. 365 days a year. Photos by Chuck SkipperPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Buffalo’s poverty rate tops 30 percent, according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, and some of those people are living on the streets. However, if they can walk to Friends of Night People, dinner will always be available.

The charitable organization at 394 Hudson St. has an open door policy 365 days a year, which means anyone can walk in for a hot meal from 5 to 7 p.m. daily.

The organization, which provides support services to Buffalo’s working poor, homeless and destitute, also helps meet clothing, counseling and medical needs, as well as providing groceries through its food pantry.

Last year, 115,000 meals were served through its dining room and pantry. “We help them maintain some amount of dignity and independence, to feel like they’re part of something more than just their cardboard box,” said Executive Director Joe Heary.

Xavier G. has been going to Friends of Night People off and on for 14 years. Recently, over soup and a chicken sandwich he said lack of funding, care and transitional housing creates a revolving door of chronic homelessness in Buffalo. He said homeless people shouldn’t have to sleep under tunnels and bridges, and he proposed that the city needs to change the way it looks at the homeless.


Michael Witt is the chief chef and cook for Friends of Night People. Witt said the food kitchen served more than 90,000 meals last year. Michael Witt is the chief chef and cook for Friends of Night People. Witt said the food kitchen served more than 90,000 meals last year.

“On the East Side of Buffalo, there’s so many abandoned houses,” he said. “They could clear those areas out and turn them into shelters.” Some Friends of Night People’s clients are suffering from mental illness and addiction but say they have little or no access to mental health resources.

“There’d be a lot less homelessness if there was more mental health care,” said Bruce B., who noted that he is on Social Security disability for mental health reasons. He complained that one hospital has cut its mental health program and another may not accept a client’s insurance.

Friends of Night People’s Friends of Friends program offers some help. Clients work with a program coordinator once a week for six months toward self-sufficiency.

The clients receive assistance with finding housing, employment, career counseling, clothing, transportation, applying for jobs and benefits, and hygiene. There are also Alcoholics Anonymous meetings six days a week, a free medical and podiatry clinic, a clothing closet and a food pantry.

But stability is difficult without shelter. Right now, Buffalo City Mission and St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy are providing cots and meals to homeless people on Code Blue nights when temperatures drop below 15 degrees.

Friends of Night People also goes around with a van to pick people up and take them to the shelters, but many turn the help away.

“When I went to City Mission I felt incarcerated,” said Solomon H., explaining why he doesn’t like the shelter. He has been going to Friends of Night People for three years.

Many agencies lack the financial means for staff or diverse programming, which makes Friends of Night People stand out.

“I’ve been to quite a few soup kitchens, and they’re not quite like this one,” he said. “They do big things for people with different needs. That’s what keeps people coming back. They feel welcome, overwhelmed and like they’re at home.”

Friends of Night People is reaching out to neighboring agencies to strengthen outreach and just formed a West Side Food Pantry Coalition with the Salvation Army, Hispanos Unidos de Buffalo, the Belle Center and First Presbyterian Church.

As a result of the collaboration, the Food Bank of WNY was able to extend its food express truck service to the West Side, delivering large volumes of produce and other perishables to the agencies collectively, once a month at a central meeting location.

Heary is now working on forming a coalition on the East Side, to make the same service available to those food-insecure clients.

Carol Palumbo, agency services director for the Food Bank, said collaboration and centralization are key solutions to Buffalo agencies’ resource limitations.

“They need to be comfortable with reaching out for support from neighboring providers like Friends of Night [People], who have those resources and connections,” Palumbo said. “The coalition on the West Side is a success, and they should be proud of that.”

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