Jon Potter wants to build a new kind of homeless shelter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he lives and runs Pittsburgh Parasailing. He says that while the current homeless shelter model saves lives, there are ways it falls short — many aren’t handicapped accessible, they don’t allow pets, and they often can’t be listed as an address on a job application. His idea is to create not just a shelter, but a home, where people can start building their lives again. The number of people who are homeless is shocking — in San Francisco, a recent count required over 500 volunteers to complete.
Potter is seeking the help of his local Reddit community, as well as anyone else who can pitch in, to make his dream a reality. In the Pittsburgh subreddit, he posted a month ago asking for help. He was soliciting advice, information, and even labor and donations, to get his homeless shelter up and running. The idea to involve Reddit may very well pay off — he’s received offers from people with skills ranging from the ability to assemble Ikea furniture through stonemasonry and remodeling work, as well as some advice about liability insurance.
His IndieGoGo campaign for the project hasn’t raised much toward his goal yet, but Jon says that if the money doesn’t come in, he’ll go forward with the project anyway, using his personal savings.
As a dog owner himself, he says he can’t bear the thought of people being torn away from their buddies in order to find shelter, so he aims to make his project pet-friendly. He says that most of the few long-term shelters that do exist have religious requirements, and he wants his to be available to everyone, with no pressure to conform to any set of beliefs. The biggest thing, though, is the ability to work. Citing this Reddit post from a formerly homeless person, Jon points out how hard it is for someone to find work without a permanent address. His shelter will allow people to stay until they can get back on their feet, and in the meantime, will provide an address, allowing people to fill out job applications, receive mail, and maintain stability.
If you’re wondering how a man who runs a parasailing business gets involved with building a homeless shelter, well, it’s not Jon’s first project. He’s already opened a hostel that runs on donations, including, again, items that Jon’s fellow Redditors have stepped in to help provide.
As for his motivation, Jon explains two things.
“In second grade, my class was asked to draw a picture of how we envisioned our lives when we were older. I drew a picture of a big house with tons of strangers living in it and lots of hearts all over. This is that simple dream coming to fruition.”
“I was a jerk from 18-20. I was traveling around and thought the world owed me something. I was given SO much from random strangers while I was hitchhiking around South America/Europe/the US, and I took it all for granted. One day, it clicked that the world owes me nothing, I owe it something. So then I dedicated my life to helping travelers as others had helped me.”
If Jon was a jerk at any time in his life, it’s impossible to see now. In his many threads about his homeless shelter and hostels, he accepts advice and criticism with grace. He can be found around Reddit and Facebook offering help and kind words to others — and in at least one case, a free parasailing lesson to someone who’d recently gone through a rough time.
As for Jon’s homeless shelter, it’s pretty clear he’s a man who goes forward with what he plans, and that he’ll make a success of this project too. The IndieGoGo page for The Pittsburgh Home is here, if you’re seeking more information.
[Photo Credit: Daniel Mayer]