Homelessness is a problem in cities big and small across the country. On a single night in January 2014, for example, more than a half million people were without a home, according to an annual one-night survey conducted for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than 84,000 people were chronically homeless in 2014, HUD says.
With money, volunteerism and person-to-person help, some car dealerships are trying to make a difference in the lives of homeless people in their communities. One gave a homeless vet a vehicle to replace a truck that was on the verge of collapse. Another dealership invites its neighbors from a homeless shelter to eat with the dealership staff and customers at a weekly Saturday luncheon. Others donate money to shelters and charities in hopes of getting services to those who need it most. Read on for more about four dealerships that are working to help homeless people in their communities.
White Bear Mitsubishi: An SUV for a Vet
In February of 2015, Richard Herod III, general manager of White Bear Mitsubishi in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, saw a segment on the local news about an unemployed Navy veteran named Matt Hammill. The 31-year-old vet had fallen on hard times, and was living in his old Dodge pickup truck.
The truck served double duty for Hammill. He'd use the Dodge to regularly visit the local veteran affairs medical center for treatments for his back that was injured while he was serving in the armed forces. In the evenings, the truck was his refuge from the elements. But the truck had become unreliable. In addition, the heating system no longer worked.
Herod reached out to the TV station that aired the segment, and contacted Hammill to invite him in to get some free repair work done on the truck. "In the brutal cold of Minnesota winters, functional heat is vital, even more so for somebody living in their car," says Herod.
Once the vehicle hit the service department, it became apparent that the heat wasn't the only problem with the truck.
"The vehicle was rusted, the heat didn't work and the four-wheel drive didn't work, among a bunch of other major problems we found," Herod told Edmunds. "We determined the right thing to do would be to set Matt up with a better vehicle."
And that's just what White Bear Mitsubishi did. The dealership gave the veteran a well-maintained used Mitsubishi Montero Sport that another customer had recently traded in. The SUV has more interior space than Hammill's old truck, and is mechanically sound. And the heat works.
The dealership's employees pooled money together and bought the vet some gas cards to go along with his new safer, more reliable SUV.
Matt Hammill's situation seems to be looking up. As a result of the news segment Herod saw, the community rallied to help find Hammill housing. Because Hammill now looks to have long-term shelter, he will be having back surgery that was put off because he'd need a stable home for the four months of recuperation. Donations to a crowd-sourced fund to help Hammill recently surpassed $5,000. And the Montero Sport should help as well.
"We wanted to be sure transportation isn't a road block to Matt getting back on his feet," says Herod. "We appreciate his service to the country, and wanted to help out. Hopefully this does."
Don Moore Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC: A Drive-Through With Purpose
Years ago, the church that Don Moore and his wife Marla attend began serving meals at one of the local shelters to some of the homeless of Owensboro, Kentucky.
"My wife and I have always been involved in helping people in our community," Moore says. "Along the way, we decided that helping the homeless would become our mission as a family."
It wasn't long before the family's mission of helping the homeless grew to include the family business, Don Moore Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC.
Built into the showroom is a coffee shop called Overflow Café. The café features a drive-through window so it can serve customers who might not normally stop at a car dealership for their morning cup of joe.
Nearly every purchase made at the café does a small part to help the homeless in Owensboro and surrounding Daviess County. The dealership donates 50 cents of every coffee drink sold by the Overflow Café to one of three local homeless shelters: St. Benedict's Emergency Shelter for Men, Boulware Mission and the Daniel Pitino Shelter. The donations have been ongoing since the café's opening in 2011.
Many of the dealership's employees volunteer their time in the shelters as well. "A lot of people in our dealerships are now helping in the shelters. Some of them raise money, some take on cleaning duty," Moore says. "The desire to help is getting bigger. It's growing."
At 60,000 residents, Owensboro is far from being a big city, which magnifies the responsibility that this dealership has to its community, Moore says. "In towns this size, car dealerships are called on to help the cities they do business in," says Moore. "It's important that we do."
Reed Nissan: Funding Real Change
Reed Nissan in Orlando, Florida, donates money from each of its car sales to Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that provides services to Central Florida's homeless population. It provides beds for more than 600 people per night, with nearly a quarter of those residents being school-aged children.
Aaron Hill, general manager of Reed Nissan, says the dealership chose the Coalition because it does more than offer free meals and shelter.
"They offer a full line of services to help get the homeless person back on the road to financial stability," Hill says. "They offer job skills training, interview training and financial training" on topics like budgeting and how to save money.
When homeless people complete the program, the shelter helps them find low-income housing. The dealership was impressed with the shelter's success rate: More than 60 percent of the people who complete the program stay off the streets.
In addition to the ongoing donations from car sales, the dealership recently held a donation drive to help raise funds. Reed Nissan was able to collect $14,500 from the local community, and added $30,000 of its own funds to present a total contribution of $44,500 to the coalition. The dealership also funded three months of television commercials for the coalition.
Sheehy Nissan of Glen Burnie: Not Your Usual Saturday Barbecue
In January of 2015, Sheehy Nissan of Glen Burnie presented Arundel House of Hope with a $10,000 cash donation. Arundel House of Hope is a nonprofit organization that provides housing and support services for the poor and homeless in Maryland's Anne Arundel County.
"Arundel House of Hope is very close to us, in more ways than one," says Mike Harrison, general manager of Sheehy Nissan of Glen Burnie. Arundel House is also located across the street from the Nissan store, which sits about 15 miles south of Baltimore. "They help folks right here in this community."
In addition to donating money to help the homeless get back on their feet, the dealership also feeds them.
Every Saturday, Sheehy Nissan has a barbecue or caters a meal, and local homeless people have a standing invitation to eat along with the dealership employees and customers. The Saturday lunches are regularly attended by more than 125 people, and have been a dealership practice for the better part of six years.
"The cookouts give us a chance to get to know the homeless in our area," says Harrison, who usually mans the grill. "We all sit and eat together. We learn each other's names, and we talk. This helps bring everybody together."
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