Activists Urge Lawmakers to Increase State Funding for Shelters and Programs

Joli Sparkman, owner of A Stitch in Time Textiles in Southbridge, shares her story of being homeless in Nurses Hall at the Statehouse. Photo: Jordan Frias.

Homeless advocates appeared at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 16, to let local policymakers know that they need an increase in state funding for the services they’ve been providing.

The event, held in Nurses Hall, was organized by the Coalition for Homeless Individuals, a network of emergency day and night shelters, health care providers and employment service providers located throughout the Commonwealth.

Among them were presidents and CEOs of places including St. Francis House in downtown Boston and Father Bill’s & MainSpring in Quincy.

Everyone present spoke about the successes they’ve had in placing homeless people in more permanent housing despite the budgets they’ve been given.

The Coalition for Homeless Individuals is asking for a $5 million increase in this year’s state budget. The Coalition was unsuccessful when asking for this last year.

Before inviting the crowd to speak to their state representative, the Coalition invited Joli Sparkman, a formerly incarcerated woman, to share her success story.

Sparkman, a businesswoman and mother of three, was in prison for 19 years, was a victim of human trafficking and was homeless. She said Project Place, a Boston program that provides job training to low-income and homeless individuals and relies on funding from the state, gave her the skills that she has today.

“When I was released from MCI Framingham, I came into a world that I knew nothing about. I didn’t know how to use a computer. I didn’t know how to ride on a train. I didn’t know how to get around the area—that was all brand new to me,” Sparkman said. “And today I’m proud to say that I now have my own business, which I just opened up a month ago. Our mission is to help people who are incarcerated to be able to have a job; they will be able to earn a paycheck and live day to day.”

Not only did Project Place help her find her footing in the world, but it also provided Sparkman with a sense of community at a time when she needed it most.

“I needed somebody that would be my friend, somebody that would stand beside me and help me go to those meetings and check in with me and say, ‘Are you doing okay today? How’s everything? Are you going to be alright? Do you need anything?’ Not just whether I need some money, not just whether I need some clothes on my back, but ‘Are you okay? Do you need to talk? Is there anything I can do for you?’ That’s what helps,” Sparkman said. “It’s not what you can give for them but it’s what you can ask them, what you can do for them mentally and spiritually and emotionally. It’s not monetary gifts. It’s emotional gifts, it’s spiritual gifts and that’s what helped me. And that’s what helped me survive and that’s what made me who I am today and that’s what’s going to keep me going.”

Sparkman now runs A Stitch in Time Textiles in Southbridge and shares her story today to let people know how vital programs like Project Place are to those who find themselves in need of housing or a job.

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.