Driving down W. Cervantes, a petite blonde woman in a beanie is spotted hopping out of her car, quickly handing out blankets to those who look cold during a frosty February afternoon. This woman is Pensacola’s Melissa Johnson- the founder of a research and compassion-based homeless initiative called Fearless Community, Inc. Though there are many nonprofits in our community dedicated to tackling homeless, Johnson’s “Fearless Community” is “committed to providing hope, love, and care to those in need by providing the means to a better future.” Johnson’s nonprofit incorporates a data-driven program that also focuses on “leading with compassion and giving them a sense of purpose, by giving them guidance to a brighter future.”
When Johnson first came to Pensacola, she was disheartened by continually seeing the same people over and over again at every street corner. Johnson sought out the advice of community leaders asking what she could do to help create change. Many of those in positions of authority told Johnson simply that “some people never change” and that she “shouldn’t worry about it,” that homelessness in our area is a lost cause. Others told her that there programs already in place, they were just seemingly not very effective. Dismayed, but not deterred, Johnson decided to put in the work and develop a way to try and be a part of the solution on her own.
Johnson felt personally called to serve these communities, and in turn created Fearless Community Inc., which is essentially a three part program that is administered using tools which in turn instill confidence and self-love in its participants. In developing the Fearless Community Inc. program, Johnson traveled and researched factors affecting homelessness in different areas of the country and started to see trends among life situations of different types of homeless populations.
“What works for single parents may not work for veterans, or those suffering from addiction. What is necessary for those struggling with mental health may not be needed for former inmates. It is important to look at the underlying causes of each individual’s circumstances, and not just lump everyone in together while making assumptions about how they got there. Let’s start by treating people to people…not a number,” Johnson explained.
One of Fearless Community Inc.’s largest obstacles seems to have been surpassed, however, as they just were gifted land by another non-profit by which to begin to build the first – and arguably most critical component- of their program- the housing component. Directly addressing the housing crisis in a way that does not turn away those who willing seek assistance is key. Johnson is encouraged that the homeless populations that she has spoken to and she has gotten know are willing and eager to come make a temporary home on the land, located in Milton, where they can feel safe and secure as they begin to rebuild their lives. Fearless Community Inc. hopes to secure tiny homes, or a ranch home, on the property so that the first, and most critical step to the program will be complete.
Johnson stated there are nearly 50 homeless veterans in our community right now that are willing to relocate to a supportive housing environment, and this is one reason why the housing step of the Fearless Community Inc. program is so critical.
The second step of the Fearless Community Inc. program will focus on establishing a day center, where those in need can be assisted in finding income and employment. Johnson has previously helped many people struggling to get back on their feet in this area- whether it be through filling out necessary paperwork for assistance, or finding willing laborers yard work or home to clean, she has been dedicated to solving the issue of income and stability for this population.
The third component of the program involves a mobile unit that will actually go out in the city and assist the homeless population with various clean-up options, including a washer/dryer hook-up, and access to restroom and shower facilities.
Currently, Johnson’s group is also bringing supplies and food out to those in need on a weekly basis. “In our community, we have so many people here who want to help. The people that are going to be a part of this program are ready to break the cycle,” she said.
Johnson was also encouraged by Pensacola’s history as a “revival community,” with a history of opening its arms to those in need and helping those who seek help. She is confident that the “Fearless” program will rehabilitate while supporting, loving and guiding our homeless population to better results, instilling in them the confidence and self-love they will need to thrive when given a new situation.
Johnson is keenly aware that Pensacola is not the only community that experiences this crisis, however, she hopes for the city to eventually become an example that other communities may mirror. She hopes to bring unity between the various nonprofits that are all ultimately working toward the same goals, that currently struggle to share resources.
“Our community is ready for change, however it takes a village. To gain a person is to gain a family, to gain a family is to gain a city, to gain a city is to gain a state, and to gain a state is to gain a nation.”
For more information, please visit fearlesscommunityinc.com