Young, well-educated residents are attracted to our comparative affordability, making ours the city with the fastest growing population of millennials. Our vitality and vibrancy bring in retailers, hoteliers and out-of-town commercial real estate investors.
But even as we reap the benefits of our newfound status—including being selected to host Pope Francis’ visit and the Democratic National Convention—the preparations for those large scale events force us to confront an uncomfortable reality: A segment of our population struggles under the crushing weight of poverty and homelessness.
The causes of homelessness are varied and complex. Some people are driven to homelessness by a lack of jobs at competitive living wages, others because of addiction, mental illness or domestic violence. While individual circumstances vary, research has determined that the primary reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find affordable housing. This lack of affordability is made worse in Philadelphia because we have a poverty rate of 26.3 percent, the highest among large cities in the nation.
Despite these challenges, Philadelphia has the lowest number of homeless people per capita among seven large American cities with similar poverty and housing problems. Thanks to the collaboration of Pathways to Housing, Bethesda Project, St. John’s Hospice, Prevention Point, Broad Street Ministries and Project HOME led by Sister Mary Scullion and Joan McConnon, there is reason to believe that we can put an end to chronic homelessness in our city.
Through the commitment of city, state and federal officials, led by the innovative leadership of Brian Hudson at the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Kelvin Jeremiah at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Liz Hersh at the Office of Homeless Services and Dr. Arthur Evans at the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, the public sector has been fundamental to this effort. However, the public sector alone cannot solve this problem. The solution lies within each of us.
That’s why my wife, Leigh, and I have invested in a strategic and collaborative public/private partnership led by Project HOME to provide Philadelphia’s chronic homeless population with housing, health care, education and employment. Under Project HOME’s lead, the partnership has identified the most vulnerable individuals who have suffered homelessness the longest, developed a comprehensive program of permanent housing and is building the necessary capacity to prevent chronic homelessness in the future.
Additionally, the partnership is using evidence-based practices in drug- and alcohol-free housing coupled with the benefits of employment, leading to greater economic independence for people struggling with addiction and chronic homelessness. To prevent future homelessness, the partnership will create new, permanent supportive housing with strong education and employment opportunities targeted at youth aging out of foster care who are experiencing homelessness.
The financial leverage and collaborative impact of the partnership has allowed Project HOME to greatly expand its housing and services, including building six new residential programs with a total of 500 additional housing units—doubling overall housing capacity. It has significantly increased the number of people who have secured jobs through the Haas Recovery and Employment program, and it has developed the Stephen Klein Wellness Center, offering integrated health care services including primary, behavioral health, dental care and wellness programs.
We know that this goal-oriented, data-driven, measurable approach can be successful. The evidence is in the success stories of the men and women who, through tremendous strength and courage, have overcome homelessness. Together, we can ensure there are many more. We invite everyone to join us in making Philadelphia the first major city in our nation to end and prevent chronic homelessness. None of us are home until all of us are home.
John Middleton is a philanthropist and majority owner of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 10 (September, 2016).
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