For nearly 30 years, The Philadelphia Committee to END Homelessness has been providing direct services – such as showers, peer counseling and a mailing address – to individuals living in shelters and on the streets through our day center and outreach program. In 2005, we created SafeHome Philadelphia, a Housing-First initiative, to rapidly move homeless and at-risk parents and their children into safe, affordable private-market housing. With modest financial assistance and encouragement to the families, over 250 Philadelphia children have not had to suffer the harm of homelessness.
When health and social services agencies learned about SafeHome, they inundated us with referrals of families at risk. We realized that a partnership with mainstream service and agencies would be the best way to serve families in need. Our current partnership is with the Early Head Start Program at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. The collaboration has been called a “rock star partnership” by the National Alliance to End Homelessness – it is the first collaboration of its kind in the country.
Through this partnership, we have become aware of the shocking number of parents who are trying to improve the health, education and well being of their children while living in untenable conditions. We are seeking general operating support in order to facilitate the replication of our Housing-First model with community-based health and social services agencies across the city. More families in untenable housing situations will have access to affordable housing in their own communities, rather than having to become homeless first.
SafeHome Philadelphia vision
This project will initiate a cultural shift – from managing homelessness through a shelter system to ending it within the community. Cultural shifts imply major, city-wide change; and we know that major change is always a struggle. We are confident, however, that we are the group to be the catalyst. Besides direct services, PCEH has always been focused on research, public awareness campaigns, and policy advocacy. Never having sought public funding, we are the only homelessness advocates in Philadelphia with the freedom to have been called the “conscience of the Philadelphia homelessness world.”
In order to develop strategies to reduce and ultimately end homelessness, we routinely comb through academic research and conduct surveys and studies with homeless populations. As a result, we have:
• Published a “Housing to Home” continuum, which was basis for Mayor’s Summit on Homelessness in 1987 and widely utilized.
• Led efforts to measure and document homelessness in the 99 counties of Pennsylvania and in the City of Philadelphia – an unprecedented effort whose validity is still recognized today.
• Convened leaders from all sectors of the city to focus on the needs of the majority homeless population, single men.
• Persuaded the City of Philadelphia to adopt a strong employment model for single men called “Ready Willing & Able.”
• Created a 10-year plan designed to end homelessness, which was acclaimed by Sheila Crowley, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition:
“The Philadelphia Committee to END Homelessness has just published a breathtakingly exquisite plan to end homelessness by 2010, ‘a conscience-rattling examination of our obligations, our opportunities and our options.’ Take a look, Mr. President and Mr. Secretary. What we have to do together is all there. Housing is the linchpin of the plan.”
The SafeHome Philadelphia plan calls for a city-wide shift to a Housing First model. The shift would enable families and individuals to move into affordable, private-market housing in a matter of weeks, and then work towards stability. Philadelphia’s current policies cause families to linger in shelter for many months, and even years, although research shows that homeless children suffer mental and physical health problems at a much higher rate than housed children.
SafeHome Philadelphia success
The topline numbers tell the SafeHome Philadelphia story well:
• housed 121 families
• housed 300 children
• partnered with 57 landlords
• invested $200,000 in direct (privately-raised) housing supports
Drilling down, however, the story becomes even more compelling:
• SafeHome Philadelphia pays a one-time direct support cost of $ 4,500 – 5,500 to house a family, whereas the City of Philadelphia pays a recurring annual cost of $35,000 to keep a family in shelter.
• 86% of the families whom we have placed and work with, remain stably housed.
• SafeHome Philadelphia was named one of nine national models for the Obama Administration’s homelessness programs.