March 27, 2019
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Steal this idea: A powerful way to help homeless individuals

A good solution in one community can be applied in yours. Here's an idea from Portland, Maine.

If you are interested in helping those in your community who are homeless or housing insecure, consider volunteering for the local agency that provides affordable housing in your town. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Editor’s note: The Renewal Project knows that good ideas start at the local level. From time to time, we will share some of our favorite ideas from across the country that you can explore in your own communities. Have an idea you want us to share? Let us know at info@therenewalproject.com.


Your local housing authority needs you: Christian MilNeil is a writer based in Portland, Maine, but about seven years ago, he decided to do something to help his community. He was interested in addressing his city’s lack of affordable housing, so he volunteered to serve as a commissioner for the Portland Housing Authority. In an essay for CityLab, he wrote, “I signed up because I had a nagging question: I wanted to know why, in a city with a known housing shortage, our public housing agency was paying thousands of dollars a year to maintain a little-used parking lot in my neighborhood, instead of building more housing there.”

Public housing programs across the country offer millions of people stability and security, especially in cities where affordable housing is scarce. Since joining his local organization, MilNeil learned that most public housing agencies do not have the time, staff, or financial resources to even think about replacing parking lots with new affordable apartment buildings. But, he writes, there’s something you can do to help solve this issue in your own community: “Consider volunteering for your local housing authority.”

MilNeil acknowledges that this type of volunteer work can be time consuming, but he explained how rewarding it was for him to welcome families into the new affordable apartment buildings and see his neighborhood transform into a safe and stable environment.

Danielle Moskowitz

Dani Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.