I am the founder of MeetIRV.org, providing mobile showers, haircuts, 1,200 meals per day and soon the first mobile laundry service to the homeless. AMA!
It all started with one bold idea...
Just days after Christmas 2015, disaster struck the St. Louis, Missouri region. Record flooding destroyed entire communities, shut down interstates, caused massive power outages and more. In Eureka, southwest of St. Louis, firefighters and their boats were in high demand, accounting for dozens of rescues of people in their homes, businesses or vehicles. Television news footage showed at least one home there drifting in the swollen river, when firefighters rescued by boat a man and a dog as floodwaters lapped at the eaves of the house roof on which they’d been trapped all night.
We knew there was something we could do to bring a measure of comfort to those facing the loss of their homes, so as the flood waters receded, we worked through the night making modifications to our family RV, a 25' travel trailer. It was about 15º and we could not allow the water lines to freeze, so we insulated and heated them. We loaded up with thousands of pounds of supplies hastily collected from family and friends. As the new year rang in across the country, we were arriving in Eureka at the National Guard Post set up there.
The people that made up this hard-working community could do nothing but watch as Bobcats and loaders carried away what was left of their homes and the Christmas they celebrated in it only days before. The water was contaminated with E. Coli, salmonella, and more forcing residents to wear hazmat suits and forego attempting to save most possessions.
For days we remained, serving thousands of meals to residents and first responders while providing a warming center, internet access, charging stations, a restroom facility and more. We knew we were on to something good!
When we returned we knew we could use this same unique outreach to serve the homeless and other at-risk communities, and MeetIRV.org was born. Less than a month later we acquired IRV, a highly modified Class A vehicle capable of doing so much more!
Now we are working harder than ever to increase awareness about what we do and get folks to share us on their social media. At the urging of many of our university volunteers, I am doing this AMA!
Visit us at MeetIRV.org or gofundme.com/IRV2017 for more about our story, photos, social media links and more.
Thanks for reading...AMA!
Jerry Powell Founder, MeetIRV.org
My Proof: https://www.meetirv.org/
EDIT: I have received a few messages via our website asking if I am the same guy who was shot at while stopping a carjacking at the Target store in the South Loop. I am, but I did not see the relevance to this AMA so I did not include mention of it. For those asking here is a link to one story about it. I am very happy to say the offender has been arrested in Atlanta and charged with his horrendous crimes. Both women and the newborn baby are doing great! http://www.fox32chicago.com/news/crime/228314726-story
EDIT 2: We give you all our most sincere thanks for the great questions and taking the time to check us out! We appreciate it more than you know. If you are looking for a really fast way to help us out, hit up @joerogan on Twitter and help us get his attention. Also, please note that if you know someone in need of our services, you can request assistance on their behalf on our website listed above! Many thanks and much love, friends!
PS - Still on the AMA!
My favorite question! Please visit us at www.MeetIRV.org and click on the 'Get Involved' link, where you can find a number of ways to join us. Many thanks for checking us out!
Have you spoken to the Orange Sky guys? They'd make for a great chat about this. http://www.orangeskylaundry.com.au
I have not spoken with them but somebody turned me onto their site a short while back and what they're doing is absolutely awesome. I feel it's the right expansion in our services given we too respond to natural disasters, fires, and other events where it would be of huge service. The weight and water requirements of new HE machines makes it more plausible than ever before as well.
This is amazing! What is your 5-year plan?
To be honest, somewhat dynamic at the moment as we have just turned to other methods of acquiring the funds to maximize our current potential. Right now our resources are capable of operating more than our funding allows. That being said, I am working aggressively to address that concern. It is difficult, however, to spend time on that administrative strife as opposed to doing the actual work for others.
Short answer: To acquire sufficient funding to operate to full capabilities; to increase our exposure to community groups, civic organizations, first responder groups and others who can benefit from our versatility; Lastly, to sponsor a program that allows others to spend time with us learning how we work with emergency responders, community groups, citizens, law enforcement and others so that they can replicate the same in their respective cities.
I love it. Good luck! And I look forward to seeing you in cities across the globe!
Thanks, that's our goal!
Have you seen these guys?
Sure have! Great work they are doing!
What was your inspiration for this and what has kept you going?
Hello! Far and away my inspiration to do this is my mother. She passed away when I was very young, 8 years old. But she always taught me that those of us who can should for those who cannot. She was very dedicated to charitable works, especially with children, battered women, and veterans. I love that this work allows me to serve those same folks in our communities. In fact, May 18th is the anniversary of her passing and we always host a HUGE service day in celebration of her works for others. I always tell others that while I only had her for a short time, I would not trade those 8 years with her for 100 with another. They are just too dear to me. Thanks for asking!
Wow! That is amazing and I feel bad for your mother.
Thanks on the first count. On the latter...I do too. Too talented, too young.
God bless your soul. I've thought of writing a Help The Homeless app where people could help those around them, but anyway I think of doing it has all sorts of sketchy legal ramifications. Basically, I'd make nothing from the app, but people could then sue me. Do you ever think up an app idea to Help the Homeless that could be feasible? If I wrote a Help The Homeless app, and someone else launched it, would I not be legally responsible? Do you want an app written for you to summon your services by homeless with a smart phone?
Hey there! A few people in Los Angeles were working on something similar about two years ago but they burned through an awful lot of capital and did not get to a functional product. Very, very few of the people we encounter and serve have cell phones. That's why when we serve folks we leave them with a printout of the nearest place with free computers and wifi, as well as the contact info for other local organizations, legislators, etc. so they can engage with others. Great idea though....if you figure out a way to clear the hurdles I want to be the first to know! :)
This seems like an incredible project! Generally, what are some of the demographics for your clients, especially when it comes to age, gender, and military service?
We genuinely see it all. Sadly, many of those we encounter are school-aged children with no parent or guardian at all. Chicago is home to over 1,600 of these kids. They either leave home because of violence and/or drug abuse, or simply have no home and have exhausted their welcome elsewhere. We certainly see more men than women, though I must say the women are usually in more dire need. I do not want that to be taken wrong...what I mean is that often the personal and hygienic needs as well of the general health of the women tends to be worse. Just as we serve young people, we see the other end as well, serving those well into their 80s. There is one woman, a wonderful soul really, who is wheelchair bound and lives under a bridge near the Chicago loop. She has immense sores as a result of her immobility, but has "lived" there for years and will not leave to seek medical attention for risk of her things being stolen and her makeshift home being taken over by another. Now for military service members...my friend, the best and most concise answer: FAR too many to be deemed socially acceptable. Far too many.
I hope that helps...I've never done an AMA before so I'm not sure how detailed I'm supposed to be. :)
Thanks for your answer. It's only my second time asking anything in an AMA, so your guess is as good as mine. Thanks again, and thanks for everything you're doing.
Thank you for checking us out. We genuinely appreciate it! :)
What is your education and professional background? What made you say, "This isn't a crazy idea!" and how do you cope with the bad days?
BA in Economics from DePaul University, planned to go on to law school but started this organization while I was a student and have now devoted a great deal of my time to it. My SO works very hard and we go without a few of the things that we could have if we did not do this work but feel it's well worth it. I am also a mitigation consultant which gives me a great deal of flexibility overall.
I knew it was not crazy because for some time I recognized the disconnect between outreach and those who needed it. A geographical disconnect. And I knew there had to be a way to bring resources to those who need it, where they need it. As for the bad days, boy do we have them. But, when you throw a surprise birthday party BBQ for a 6 year old little girl just yards from what used to be their home, you find center. When you talk to someone and they tell you "I haven't felt this good about myself in years," you find center. The reward outweighs the mental cost.
Whooo, DePaul :D I'll be a senior there next year (Environmental Studies), about to enter in the Master's program for Sustainable Management! Thank you so much for what you do! As you know, our city desperately needs it. You're amazing! all the high fives
Congrats! I absolutely loved my experience at DePaul! Our city has it's problems, but it also has a tremendous number of great people who care about the less fortunate in our communities. "All the high fives." Haha...love it! Be well buddy.
It's a business so how does it make money?
We are NOT a business in any way. We make no money. In fact we have funded this work ourselves and by constantly hitting up family and friends. This is about service to those in our communities who need it. No profits here!
That's very noble but even non-profits have income. Reasonably, how long can your family and friends fund this? It sounds like a great service but you need to think about sustainability.
Fortunately this is not my first rodeo! Before starting this org, I served a number of 501(c)(3) orgs. I sat on the board of Lions Club International, Knights of Columbus, and chaired the Joan Brown Six Memorial Endowment for Education & Nature Preservation, Springbrook Nature Preserve, and others. However, the administrative work of such cumbersome organizations detracts greatly from the actual service. We are working on some exciting new things. A vehicle wrapping company out of Bloomington has offered to put a new wrap on IRV, for free, displaying the names and personal messages of up to 20,000 individual donors. One of the reasons I started this direct type of outreach was to show those that we serve that there are others in their communities who care. For this reason, we are exploring crowdfunding endeavors as opposed to traditional charitable org support from large corporations, etc. Additionally, some of the signage, product placement, and other requests made by potential corporate sponsors puts us in a position of exploiting those we serve, and that I will not have. We rarely even take photos and videos because our goal is to provide our services with dignity and respect, not as a side show. NPOs shutter their doors every day...it's about doing as much good work as you can for as long as you can! We'll keep on keepin' on!
Keep up the good work brother. I love to see these kinds of innovative solutions that actually make a difference opposed to bloated government aid programs that have little to no effect.
Keep on truckin!
Thanks my friend! We sure are trying! Appreciate you taking the time to chat and check us out. :)
Have you reached out to Joe Rogan for an interview?
No, but I've received 2 pm's asking this same question...what am I missing?
I feel like he would love to cover your story. I'd personally love to hear a podcast with you two! He has a couple million leople listen to each of his podcasts and I feel like it would give you a ton of coverage.
Well thanks for the heads up! I guess I'll have to figure out how to get this AMA in front of his eyes! I hate that it's true, but exposure is king. I'll have to look into getting his attention on social media! Thanks again, friend!
I would use twitter. If you are really interested I'd edit your ama to ask for some help to @his twitter from everyone. He uses it quite a bit.
Thanks for the advice! I did hit him up on Twitter but had not thought about editing the AMA to encourage others to do the same. I thought that might be against the rules, but....making an edit. :)
Any plans on coming to Boston? Do you need a coordinator in a city before you head to it?
We are currently planning a trip to Boston in August and are working with a local coordinator there. We usually just coordinate with police/fire/municipal authorities while en route, but when we have a contact in a city/region we certainly take advantage of it.
Do you do any cleanup of the sites that are littered after your events?
We absolutely do. One of our goals is to leave the places we visit better than we found them, and cleanup is a big part of that. Often we only clean up our own items, however, as some homeless communities become very upset if you attempt to remove ANYTHING, whether it appears to be garbage or not. These folks are very crafty in using everything they find!
Do you see this taking off and spreading to dozens of cities across the USA?
I sure hope so! We have a number of people who have contacted us wishing to do the same in their city/region, and we always invite them to come spend time with us seeing how we operate, work with police and authorities, manage resources, etc. Ideal would be not needing them in cities across the country. Reality is we do!
Have you gotten involved with the Red Cross or Salvation Army to provide services in shelters?
Hi, thanks for asking! I'm going to give the most honest answer here but please, please note it is not intended to lessen or belittle the amazing volunteers of these organizations...
That being said, both organizations are bloated giants, spending huge portions of revenues on administrative and other excessive costs. The Red Cross response in Missouri, for example, was wholly ineffective because they were so cumbersome they were not able to be immediately reactive. For example, a Red Cross banner was hung at the high school, but due to miscommunication, the volunteers never left the hotel to man it.
I hame immense appreciation for the wonderful people who give of their time and talent to these organizations, but our method of delivering outreach and assistance is a bit more direct and grass-roots. Lastly, we cannot keep up with those on the streets that rely on our assistance, so lending resources to an organization exponentially larger than us does not seem like a good allocation at the moment.
Thanks so much for checking us out...we really appreciate it! Be well!
You won't be the first, "Ransom Ministries" in Mobile, AL has one.
Here's a picture of the outside. For some reason, it's not showing up in the article.
And Tide had "Loads of Hope" before that.
What do you think about collaborating with the other organizations?
I meant the first based in Chicago, should have been more clear. As for collaboration with other entities already doing something similar, orgs in other states are not practical and larger operations, like "Loads of Hope," do not fit into our model of direct social action and focus on clothing drives and response to natural disaster, not endemic conditions. Additionally, the nature of our work makes it far more practical to encompass the service within our own organization, both in providing access to the service and from a cost perspective.
Thanks for the reply!
Thanks for taking the time to check us out!!!
You're true heroes!
Do you know of any similar projects in the UK?
That's very kind of you to say, thank you! I am not aware of any similar projects in the UK, though I must admit I have not made an attempt to seek them out. Between trying to raise public awareness about what we do, managing food and supplies, performing service, sanitizing IRV, and maintenance, we find ourselves pretty wrapped up. We are still a newer presence to the scene and everything good takes time, so we are concentrating on getting our name out there. If you learn of anything similar we would love to hear about it! Thanks!
Can you tell me more about the "community crisis repsonse" project? Are you currently working with local law enforcement officers, other service providers or DAs for this project? I know there are several organizations currently in the U.S. that does this type of work and was wondering how yours may be different from others.
Hi there! Thanks for asking...we do approach things a bit differently. We are based in Chicago, and it is no secret that we have a problem with gun violence and a bigger problem with black and blue hate between some community factions and the police. Our goal is to give community members information, in real time, that can allow them to feel empowered without resorting to methods of unrest. We have a mobile print center on board, which allows us to respond to a scene of gang violence, police activity, or other social crisis and immediately distribute contact and social media information for their community officials and elected legislators. This allows people to engage immediately with those accountable to their community. We also have an external TV where we display this information. When people are presented with a way to feel immediately empowered, they devote their energies to the endeavor of exercising empowerment over violence, and we call that a win.
I'm sorry - forgot something...
Yes, we do work with local law enforcement on a situational basis. We always advise authorities when we intend to conduct any operation in their jurisdiction and very much pride ourselves on our amazing relationship with police, fire, National Guard and other we so often coordinate with. We are, for the most part, very well received by police and other authorities.
This is an incredibly inspirational! I'm always amazed when people truly get out there and personally make the world a better place.
From your experience, do you think most volunteer opportunities lack people or funds with which to act?
I recognize, of course, that both are critical and that in most cases it's good to get as much of both as possible. But I also wonder if it can help motivate people to do one or the other!
Awe, thanks! We tell volunteers all the time that we may not be able to change the world today, but we can change the world for one person at a time.
This is AMA so I'll be brutally honest...the biggest obstacle to activism is social media. The reality is that we cannot continue if people do not know who we are and what we do, and in this day and age that means social media. Unfortunately, social media also gives you the option to "like" or "share" something, giving one the sense of satisfaction in that they served some function to help. Unfortunately, that immediate gratification is rarely followed by real-world action. Having funded much of this ourselves so far, the only fundraising we have done has been through family, friends, civic groups we belong to, things like that. This is the first time we have ever ventured into crowdfunding as we simply cannot fund our full operational potential. I hate, more than anything, the reality that money is critical to do good work. I always feel like pounding the pavement for funding detracts from the good of the works. It's simply a necessary evil.
Hey, I wasn't able to see where you're located out of, did I miss it? I have a suspicion that it's Chicago/Chicagoland?
Hi there! My apologies for not being more clear. We are based in Chicago, though we travel throughout the midwest when appropriate. Thanks! :)
Do you ever team up with a local laundromats?
I have long had the daydream of having a mobile shower unit that occasionally pairs with brick and mortar facilities, but suspect few places would want to shut down their operations for a day.
You said you acquired the IRV within weeks of starting - was this all done out of pocket or were you able to acquire outside funding that quickly?
Hi there! I tried for some time, without success, to form a partnership with a laundromat or high-volume commercial facility. Unfortunately, they all expressed concerns about the level of soiling to the clothing, the fear of needles, contraband, or weapons in pockets, etc.
As for how we acquired IRV so quickly...we sat down as a family and discussed it, knowing exactly what we were biting off. I went to school near Elkhart, IN which is the RV manufacturing capital of the world. A buddy from school is with a large manufacturer and sold us a unit at cost, allowing us to finance 100% of the cost. We raised money from family and very close friends to pay for the modifications, insurance, outfitting costs and related items. Long story short, we took on immense debt.
That's really a bummer to hear. I wonder if a university or church would be willing to participate. I belong to a large, public university's gym and they have a whole bank of laundry machines. Though perhaps they wouldn't be excited about dozens or hundreds of homeless people milling around campus, even during summer break. A church might be more likely.
I hope you're eventually able to acquire enough funding to pay down that debt, and maybe even take a salary someday! If I had the money to be a philanthropist, you'd be exactly the type of organization I'd fund. I'll check back in twenty years and see how you're doing :P
One other aspect of the issue is that these folks, for the most part, will not part with their clothes to be returned to them at some later time. The transient nature of their lives means they may not find themselves in the same place tomorrow, or even hours later. That is why I want to do what we do with other outreach services...bring the resources to them! The debt is not ideal, but I am confident that once we do more to get the word out about our mission people will find it worthy of their support. Definitely check back with us, but don't wait 20 years!!! Be well, much love.
Hi Jerry, congrats on your great work. When do you anticipate your laundry facility being operational?
The great news is that you won't be the first! There totally is a mobile laundry truck operating in Denver for folks without homes. It's operated by Bayaud Enterprises. They are operational already, and could use donations. Here's their website!
Our timeline is wholly dependent on funding. Our design is not a whole lot different than that of the one you mention, though I did not notice holding tanks so I wonder if they hook up to city water/sewer. We are also using a different body style rig. If all goes according to plan we will be offering this awesome new service by the end of August. I did notice they appear to be a for-profit company dedicating their resources to great works in the community, just noting they are not strictly a service org.
Bayaud does a lot of great things in Denver, from the laundry truck to job training, etc.
But your program sounds awesome, too! Best of luck to you. There was a lot of excitement around the Bayaud program, I'll share your link with those folks!
Oh I hope my response didn't come across wrong! Looks like they do a lot of great things in Denver. I didn't mean to detract from that; I simply meant that it looks like their outreach is directly connected. Many thanks for the share!
Oh I hope my response didn't come across wrong! Looks like they do a lot of great things in Denver. I didn't mean to detract from that; I simply meant that it looks like their outreach is directly connected. Many thanks for the share!
Have you reached out to the states TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Family) program? I work for TANF in Wisconsin, I'm not sure what it looks like in Illinois but my guess is this has a lot of potential to team up with them to serve statewide. Awesome job!!
Attempting to work with the State of Illinois on ANYTHING is a complete nightmare. The other problem we have noted with TANF participants is that they are often seeking direct monetary support or other services requiring direct monetary support. Because of our shoestring funding and overall mission, we do not provide direct monetary support to those we serve. If we can ever be of assistance to our neighbor to the north, please let me know!
Lovely. How does one get involved?
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