Melvin Bridgmon | January 6, 2021
The story of Outreach Chicago’s (OC) leader Melvin Bridgmon is a long and complicated one. Formerly, a homeless veteran for 15 years, he has suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for quite awhile. During the darkest moments of his life, it was the homeless intervention specialist that found him on the streets and put him in the care of licensed professionals to assist him on his journey of healing. What Melvin remembers most was how having folks listen to his trauma helped him move forward with his issues. It was through these experiences that Melvin developed a passion for reaching back and helping others experiencing homelessness.
In 2009, Melvin started Outreach Chicago (OC) with his late sister with the goal of creating a place that helps address the issues facing people who are experiencing homelessness (or near homelessness), immigrants, and low-income families and individuals. The initial services provided lunches to the homeless at 10 locations. Throughout the serving process, having routine conversations with those experiencing homelessness is the norm. Having these conversations is integral to the work in order to know their day-to-day needs. OC uses various methods for listening and building connections with clients. The most important part of the work isn’t giving out materials, it’s listening and allowing the clients to vent their emotions and discuss the issues they are dealing with. Many of OC’s clients have experienced physical and sexual abuse throughout their lives, and having a space just to vent offers a few minutes of reprieve for many of them.
The main goal of the organization is to gain the trust of their clients to best serve their basic needs. Feedback that OC consistently received was the need for more adult and baby personal hygiene products. Because of this feedback, they have developed a Personal Hygiene Products program. They collect and distribute women and men’s hygiene products, feminine products, pampers, and baby hygiene products. These items are distributed with food from their Lunchtime Program. This is just one of the many examples of how the organization has used feedback to make tangible changes to the services provided.
Conversations and listening are key to finding and servicing more people in the homeless community. These are most often individuals who are hidden from view. They live in the back of vacant lots, under expressways, condemned buildings, under bridges, and newly formed tent cities. Organizations can make a much larger impact by taking seriously the day-to-day conversations from their clients. The answers to “how do we make this program better” often lie not in a grant report but in the voices of the streets. Melvin understands those voices of the streets. But he needs help! He needs people that are willing to roll up their sleeves and get out there with him to connect with people who are forgotten in society. If you can’t volunteer, donating is the best way to be a part of an organization looking to care for those left behind.
You can volunteer or donate here: https://outreachchicago.us/index.html
Melvin is a father of three girls and three boys. He enlisted in the United States Navy in 1971 and graduated from Great Lakes Naval Training Center. His home port was the Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii where he was a Boilerman Fireman apprentice. Currently, he is majoring in Information Technology at Governors State University, while also being President & CEO of Outreach Chicago.