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Reaching out to the homeless, one person at a time

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Reaching out to the homeless, one person at a time
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As winter creeps closer, the nights will get tougher for the area's homeless and there are those who choose not to seek help at shelters for a number of reasons. It's that population one Syracuse woman has made it her mission to help. Our Sarah Blazonis has the story behind "Maria's Outreach."

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- As DPW and police crews cleaned out a homeless camp near the corner of Erie Boulevard East and McBride Street in Syracuse Wednesday, Maria Sweeney spotted a few items she brought here herself. That might seem strange, considering a little more than six months ago, she didn't know this spot existed.

"I worked in the suburbs, and you know, I never really saw this kind of problem with people standing on the corners, begging, really impoverished looking people," said Sweeney.

But after getting a job downtown, it was something she saw frequently. She decided to introduce herself to a few people she saw regularly.

"I just got to know them little by little, I got to know their stories, you know, tried to just be whatever help I can," she said.

Since then, she's brought food, clothing and other items to about 30 people in need, including to Randy Carmona and James Hill.

"It touches your heart, is what it does. It reminds you that there's someone out there that really cares," said Carmona.

With the encampment now cleaned out and the winter not even started, Maria Sweeney says her next project is even more important.

Miracles Hair Studio in Fayetteville picked Maria's Outreach to benefit from its annual giving back effort. Employees collected warm clothing, shoes, gift cards and other items that will be delivered to those Sweeney works with.

"They don't really want to go to the shelters because they're still kind of caught up in whatever their situation is," said Kristen Durkee, a stylist at the salon and one of the organizers of the collection.

"So us, we're very fortunate to have jobs and we want to give back to people who aren't as fortunate as we are," said Kendalia Edelman, the salon's co-owner.

But this is just a first step. Sweeney says her main goal has always been to help figure out what barriers keep the people she reaches out to from seeking help. She says permanent housing options like those she's found elsewhere in the U.S. can be one solution.

"The services are provided right on the site. So they get mental health services, medical services and social services, so they don't have to go look at it, which is often one of the barriers," said Sweeney.

Right now, Sweeney's focused on the present, getting blankets to those who might have lost some in the clean-up, and continuing to take her endeavor one step, and one person, at a time.

For more information on Maria's Outreach, visit www.facebook.com/#!/MariasOutreach.

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