Community Spotlight: Philadelphia's Project HOME Turns Homelessness On Its Head

Project HOME helps Philadelphians transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Photo courtesy Project HOME
Ending chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia is a lofty goal. Yet since 1989, Project HOME has helped thousands in the city break the cycle of homelessness and poverty in the city's low-income neighborhoods. Their vision as an organization is elegant and impactful in its simplicity: "None of us are home until all of us are home."

HOME stands for housing, opportunities for employment, medical care and education, the four main areas co-founders Sister Mary and Joan Dawson McConnon identified after in-depth local street outreach. Today, its outreach team is just as intimately familiar with those stories, traveling the streets of Philadelphia to connect with people who are homeless and trying to help them move off the streets.

"‘HOME is just as relevant as it was when we started nearly 30 years ago," says Barbara Hadley, vice president of education and workforce development at Project HOME. "What's so unique about our approach is that we've developed programs to serve the individual needs of different groups of people at different times in their lives. We are here for support when somebody is ready to take the next step."

The root causes of homelessness are varied and complex. Yet in Philadelphia, there has been a history of effective public-private partnerships, and Project HOME has been one of several leaders. It offers safe havens like its Stephen Klein Wellness Center, opened in 2015 in the second poorest zip code in Philadelphia, which provides primary care, behavioral health, dental, a YMCA, pharmacy, and wellness services for the homeless.

"Sometimes the circumstances can be crushing in someone's life and that can lead to homelessness. It really is about seeing people as people who are experiencing homelessness, not ‘homeless people'," Hadley notes. "There are so many different stories, and there's incredible resilience among people who have gotten into some horrible circumstances."
Supported housing and employment programs give participants the tools to thrive. Photo courtesy Project HOME
One large driver of homelessness is the cost of housing. That is why Project HOME remarkably provides permanent supported housing for those who are eligible. The organization currently has about 750 units of housing, and with financial support from Capital One, will be opening a new 88-unit residence on North Broad Street in Summer 2017.

"You can stay at Project HOME for as long as you want or need to," Hadley says. An older model may have mandated that an individual already be drug free and agree to certain parameters before housing is granted. In contrast, Hadley states, "Now the newer model is, we give you housing first, no questions asked, but then we help you with whatever you need to do. Success comes from getting people the support they need. If you're homeless you need a place to live first, then you can look for a job more easily than if you're homeless. Even to stay clean and get into recovery is hard to do when you're living on the street. It's much easier if you're in housing."

Residents pay a percentage of their income as rent, so there is incentive to eventually "graduate" and move out. "It's celebrated when people move out into their own housing. Even though people really love it here, it's an accomplishment," Hadley says.

At Project Home, getting to that stage of self-sufficiency is a team effort, with support that includes employment assistance, thanks to support from Capital One's grants and other partners). An in-house art program sells candles, soaps and greeting cards made by Project HOME residents, who are in turn paid for the work they produce. From there, participants move on to greater employment— assistance with a GED or certification program leads to six-month apprenticeships with the support of a job coach, followed by permanent employment in entry-level jobs for those who perform well. To continue on the path to breaking the cycle of poverty, empowerment and financial stability, Project HOME's Power to Employ program continues the skill building through services like resume help and mock interviews.

The results of these efforts are tangible: In 2016 the organization served 122 participants through workshops and enrolled 39 persons in apprenticeships. Sixty-six percent of participants gained job readiness and 87 percent of participants retained employment and met the 30-day benchmark. Project HOME's Employment Services program served at least 120 unemployed persons looking for meaningful and competitive work. Most importantly, 72 program participants obtained competitive employment.

"There isn't a one-size-fits-all for employment. The idea is you want to rapidly connect to a job, get the support to stay in that job and then hopefully progress to better jobs," Hadley states. "You can imagine not having an income, not having the dignity of work in their life, and then getting a job. It means an incredible amount to the person."

That sense of accomplishment is contagious. "There's a ripple effect in the Project HOME community," Hadley says. "One resident forges their path and other residents see, ‘Well, if they did that, maybe I can do it.'"

For more information on Capital One's community efforts,
visit www.capitaloneinvestingforgood.com

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