Nonprofit battles homelessness and the fallout of a pandemic

HomeAid America launched days before COVID-19 closures

Russ Beymer knew it would be a challenge to start the newest chapter of HomeAid America in Orlando. That was before a worldwide pandemic changed everything.

Russ Beymer knew it would be a challenge to start the newest chapter of HomeAid America in Orlando. That was before a worldwide pandemic changed everything.

Beymer, the executive director of the nonprofit HomeAid Orlando, has 30 years of experience in the home building industry, experience he now uses to bring builders and homeless service providers together.

“I’m kind of the oil that greases all the pieces and parts,” Beymer said. “My job is to triage all the possibilities out there.”

The possibilities are vast. HomeAid Orlando projects range from simple landscaping to new construction.

Beymer works with builders, subcontractors and tradespeople to help homeless service providers fulfill their construction and building maintenance needs.

“Homelessness goes right along with the homebuilding industry and the construction industry,” Beymer said. “It’s a wonderful thing to see people live their dream in a home of their own but I’ve realized since I’ve taken on this role that there’s something even greater in our purpose as home builders. We can give back to our community and really make a difference to people who really need the help.”

HomeAid’s latest project is on the shores of Bay Lake in Orlando. Contractors are updating a 1930s farmhouse that will be used as the administrative offices for Freedom Ride. The nonprofit offers equine therapy to children and adults, including homeless veterans.

Freedom Ride executive director Marianne Gray said the move to a larger property will enable them to serve more people.

“HomeAid has kicked off the most important year for Freedom Ride,” Gray said. “Renovating a 1939 house that will enable us to serve many deserving individuals.”

“Right now we’re about halfway through this project,” Beymer said as he stood in what was once the home’s living room. “We’re in the drywall phase.”

Work will be put on hold for a few weeks though as a result of the pandemic.

Beymer said material availability, costs and labor shortages have caused delays and social distancing was a challenge for some outreach projects last year.

“We had our first big kick off breakfast on March 5, 2020,” Beymer laughed. “And we all know what happened in March 2020.”

The benefit, Beymer said, this is all the start-up knows.

“First and foremost we want to provide a professional well-budgeted, well-run construction site. The second priority is we’d like to save money. That’s a very difficult thing in this cycle that we’re in right now because costs have gone up so dramatically. Supply availability makes it very difficult to have someone give you something for free when they don’t even have it for the people who want to pay for it,” Beymer said.

Through it all, work does continue. Nationwide, HomeAid is able to save their clients between 30 to 50% on construction costs.

HomeAid’s mission is to help people experiencing homelessness through housing, community outreach and education.

“Here in Orlando the challenge is how do we get more affordable housing? How do we get more resources for people that are out there trying to make a difference? Well that’s what I’m doing,” he said.

Beymer said the Freedom Ride project should be finished in a few months and there are others in the planning stages. Builders want to help and the need doesn’t seem to be going away.

“We started this is an pandemic, we’ve been successful getting projects built in a pandemic and we’re really looking forward to getting through not only the pandemic but this supply construction constraint issue that’s going on right now, which is equally challenging. But still you see the generosity and the willingness of the building industry to help out,” Beymer said. “We’re getting it done.”

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.