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Purposeful Pitch: Helping the Homeless Amid a Global Pandemic

By Joe DiBenedetto, Managing Director

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put a strain on economies throughout the U.S., many nonprofits are feeling the impact, especially those focused on homelessness and poverty. With limited support from the public, and rising demands for food and supplies, these organizations have had an uphill battle since the start of the pandemic.

This reality is all too real in Phoenix, Arizona, where the nonprofit Phoenix Rescue Mission is in the midst of its annual Code: Red Summer Heat Relief Campaign, a city-wide mobilization effort to prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses among Phoenix’s homeless population. The campaign is centered around a fleet of Hope Coach vans, armed with water and other heat-relief items, that travels the streets in search of those caught in the deadly heat. Add in the pandemic, along with diminishing resources, and the Mission is facing its toughest challenge to date.

On this episode of the Purposeful Pitch, Phoenix Rescue Mission Chief Program Officer Nathan Smith joins my colleague, Josh Skalniak, and me for an in-depth conversation on the struggles and risks associated with homeless street outreach during a pandemic. We’ll look behind the scenes of what it takes for an organization like Phoenix Rescue Mission to be successful in preventing heat-related deaths while curbing the spread of the virus among the city’s most vulnerable population.

Following his life’s passion, Smith has worked as a missions pastor, case manager, program director, board president, and executive in several churches and nonprofits. Smith has been with Phoenix Rescue Mission for the past six years, and he now oversees all of the nonprofit’s programs, including its public-private partnerships aimed at reducing crime, poverty, and homelessness in targeted regions of the metro area.

Smith was instrumental in the expansion of the Mission’s reach into neighboring regions like Glendale, where he and his team saved the city’s largest food bank, Hope For Hunger Food Bank, from closing for good. His team reopened the food bank and increased the output of the previous ownership by more than 50% – serving more than 160 families per day. He was also a key player in the formation of Glendale Works, an integrated workforce development program aimed at reducing homelessness in Glendale by providing homeless individuals day-work cleaning city property.

To continue the conversation or learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto.