Steve Camilleri is a hugger.
Offering a warm smile and direct eye contact as he speaks, the South Bend man makes many he meets feel like a longtime friend, embracing his companions — both literally and figuratively — exactly as they are.
The son of a therapist and a bartender from New York, Steve says he was “raised to give.”
“The principles my parents gave, they’re deeply embedded in us,” he says. “My parents were so accepting of everyone they met and I like to think they shared that with me and my sisters.”
Perhaps his warm persona and radiant positivity has led to his success in his 13-year career at South Bend’s Center for the Homeless, where he serves as executive director.
In this position, Steve’s job is to guide the organization to accomplish its mission, which is to break the cycle of homelessness, bring people together to discover their worth, dignity and potential, and to pioneer a service model worthy of replication.
Steve says the public perception of people taking advantage of homeless centers is often that they have given up on themselves.
“Actually, people who utilize the Center for the Homeless are saying, ‘I came to the Center because I don’t give up,’” he says. “It’s just the opposite. People come here because they know we hold them accountable. We hold them to a really high standard, because we have high expectations that they will do great things.”
CFH houses approximately 200 people per night all year long.
“From Nov. 1 to April 1 the number spikes because we do weather amnesty, so we have an additional 10 percent of the population that we serve,” Steve says, explaining that while there is a need 365 days per year, the winter season does present a greater need as the center houses more families with young children. “As we get to the holidays there is certainly a different feel.”
With cooler temperatures, CFH needs more donations of warm weather clothing: gloves, scarves, hats, coats, socks and boots.
“We’re focused on being good recipients,” Steve says. “As you get toward Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza, there tends to be giving around that. When we receive, we are emphasizing, ‘what is a gift you have that can be given?’”
CFH has a number of giving and volunteer opportunities for those outside the center willing to lend a hand.
“We want our guests to be gracious and think what they can give in return,” Steve says. “Maybe they can share their prayers, their stories, their relationships. We know we’ve been so blessed by this community.”
For example, a physician with South Bend Orthopedic regularly donates high quality shoes so CFH occupants can comfortably travel. Others volunteer to offer skills training, or spend time with children.
“I like to say, ‘do what you can do with what you have when you have it,’” Steve says. “If you’re a child, you can do a lemonade stand. If you’re an adult, you can come in and volunteer. If you have financial resources, use those. If you have spiritual resources, use those. Do it while you have it, when you can, and know we are so grateful.”
How to give:
To donate to the Center for the Homeless, visit
cfh.net, find the Center for the Homeless on Facebook, or contact Taya Groover at email@example.com or Steve Camilleri at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios