The idea to launch a backpacks program for people living on the streets came about one night in February, 2018. Co-founders Jeffrey Newman and Jayson Conner were beginning the process of creating Together Helping Others, their full-service nonprofit for the homeless. Realizing that it would take significant time to get THO launched, the guys weren’t content sitting on the sidelines until then. So they decided to launch with BFTS.
While they knew the backpacks concept was not a revolutionary idea, the J’s knew it was the right program to get THO off the ground. Moreover, they knew they would bring their years of experience working with the homeless into the process and put their own twist on bringing compassion and hope to people in need.
“This is about hope. This is about showing people who feel invisible and forgotten about that they matter and that someone cares,” says Newman. “We know this isn’t going to cure homelessness. That’s what our other programs are about; the solutions. But this is about hope,and hope is where it all begins.”
While the nonprofit has become wildly known for our backpacks program, it is fully committed to working with individuals to find short and long-term solutions to getting back on their feet.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the BFTS crew went into crisis mode and immediately jumped on to the front lines, operating 18 hours a day, seven-days a week during the following year and a half. Today it still operates 365 days a year.
To put that in perspective, during it’s first two years of operation when the program was quarterly (2018), and then bi-weekly, BFTS distributed approximately 6,000 to 7,000 packs. In September 2023, it surpassed 100,000.
BFTS has also grown beyond only backpacks, devoting much work on helping homeless individuals with tangible solutions. Trained team members work one-on-one with individuals to get them services from housing and mental health, to employment, vocational training, HIV, addiction and other health care, and provide case management to create a plan of action for that person.
“It can be very lonely living on the street,” says Conner, who was homeless himself for two years when he and Newman met in 2004. “Many of the homeless are grateful that someone sees them as a person and treats them as if they matter.”
Adds Newman, “People need to know they have someone in their corner and who can help them figure out where they need to go and what needs to be done. Knowing how to get from point A to point B is the hardest step sometimes.
“Just having that human interaction can make more difference than anything. People need to know they aren’t invisible or disposable,” he adds. “At the end of the day, we are all the same. If COVID showed us anything that can be any one of us in that situation. We should treat everyone, regardless of circumstances with the same respect and dignity we all want and deserve.”
BFTS is deeply committed to working with all those affected by homelessness, especially people of color, LGBTQ and migrant communities which have been hit particularly hard.
While this program is backpacks, we are still Together Helping Others.
Backpacks For The Street is a program of Together Helping Others Inc, a recognized 501(c)(3) public charity. All donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Together Helping Others is rated silver on GuideStar, a rating given to only 2% of the public charities it monitors for transparency.