Lin and Ron Wilensky founded Dave’s House in 2009 in honor of Lin’s brother Dave Jeffries, who suffered from schizophrenia. At his lowest point, Jeffries was homeless, but he was able to find permanent support housing in Virginia. From there, he was never hospitalized again and was able to live a healthy and productive life.
Dave’s House brought that idea to Central Florida in an effort to offer housing and treatment for mental illness to homeless individuals.
“One of the things that I love most about Dave’s House is that we focus on people that are the most vulnerable among our community,” Gould says.
Gould became involved when her consulting firm, Advocate Enterprises, began working with Dave’s House to help the organization expand its reach and develop a structured plan. She took over as president and CEO a year later.
Service is more of a lifestyle than an occupation for Gould. In 2012, she was elected to the Orange County Public Schools board of directors.
“Really homelessness is something we deal with in both arenas,” Gould says. “In Dave’s House we deal with the adults and at OCPS we have several thousand, I think last count was 7,000, kids that are homeless. So its something that is very concerning to me that I want to make a difference in.”
Dave’s House has partnered with Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. This community effort helps those in need, particularly people with serious mental illness.
Since taking over this year, Gould and Dave’s House have launched Dave’s Housing First. This housing model provides apartments for people with serious mental illness alongside co-occurring disabilities, which requires a greater intensity of services.
“We started with a small launch in that program of 12 people and we just ended up being assigned another 45,” Gould says. “So we went from zero to housing probably over 60 by the end of the year.”
Gould is pushing to house more than 100 people in 2017.
She remembers the first person the organization moved into the first house. He had been on the streets for nearly 10 years.
“The simple joy of being able to make rice and beans and chicken in his own little kitchen was just very moving,” Gould says. “It’s the small differences that are absolutely transformative in the lives of the people we help.”
No matter what would she is doing, Gould is always looking to build a better place around her.
“My life is really about trying to build those partnerships, whether you’re talking about Dave’s House or for the school board, to make it better for those who are vulnerable in the community,” she says.