Help Me End Homelessness

This is the time of year when a lot of parents are working their way through the list of typical back-to-school purchases, such as fall clothes, books, and school supplies.

For the families sponsored by SafeHome Philadelphia, on whose board of directors I sit (the website is out of date),  the back-to-school priority list reads a little differently:

1) Get out of unsafe housing, off the streets, and find a place to call home

Without a place to call home it's virtually impossible for parents to even consider school for their kids. SafeHome Philadelphia is a non-profit, privately funded organization dedicated to ending homelessness by working with landlords in local communities to identify safe, clean environments for families and their children. We get families off the street, into a home of their own.  

It's called the Housing First philosophy, and it is a radical attempt to end homelessness.  Rather than put families in a shelter system and wait for them to take care of the issues that led them there, we believe in giving people housing first, and then connecting them to the mainstream and neighborhood services they need to maintain permanent housing. This community-based approach helps prevent people from entering the homeless service system, and helps those already homeless to rapidly exit the cycle of temporary solutions. Give people the stability and dignity that permanent housing affords, rather than use the more expensive shelter system as a bandaid. (We have a 90%+ success rate that proves it works.)

2) Get support to re-establish my family

Coming off the street, working families typically do not have the necessary first and last month rent, security deposit, etc., let alone credit to qualify for basic utilities. SafeHome Philadelphia makes available a general "housing success" fund, which helps with up-front, move-in expenses. Our term family advocates help families work through legal and financial challenges to setting up and making their home permanent.

3) Find basic household items to cook with, bathe with, eat from, etc.

SafeHome families typically lack things that most people take for granted. Children need chairs to sit on and tables to put their books on - at the minimum. Then consider the things required for basic cooking, eating, sleeping in a bed (often as opposed to the bare floor or a cast-off couch). As part of the "housing success" fund and donations, SafeHome helps families with the basic household goods to make their home ... home.

The good news: we've found the solution, and we've housed and stabilized 41 families, including 102 children, in less than 2 years.

We can demonstrate that SafeHome can end homelessness in ways other programs can't. That we can re-connect families with society by giving them a home first. A place of their own from which to build pride, regain hope, become self-sufficient... and to do homework.

I met one of our families at a rally we held on Wednesday in Philadelphia,   Twin sisters in a shelter with their mother and siblings.  Their grades plummeted, and one was held back. Conditions in the shelter were so unbearable that their mother rented a house she couldn't afford; they were forced to live without furniture, and still remained on the brink of homelessness. Desperate, they found SafeHome Philadelphia on a library computer.

Today, the family's income is stable and their house is furnished --including a computer for homework! Now, when the twins get home from school, homework comes first - and they're getting A's & B's on their report cards.

And it's cheap: we are able to house and stabilize a family for a one-time cost of only $4,000.

Sounds like a lot? It costs the City of Philadelphia $35,000 annually in taxpayer dollars to put a family in a shelter.  A shelter is not a home.  At the end of that year, there still is no permanence, no option, no future. We spend half of $4,000 (raised privately, without governmental red tape or restrictions) on up-front rent and security deposits, and the other half on support staff, including the family advocate. Our dollars flow straight to the solution.

But we absolutely need your support now.

Basically, SafeHome was our gamble.  We decided that the best way to turn around homelessness in Philadelphia was to use the reserves we had to support as many families as possible, to demonstrate that a "housing first" philosophy worked, and then use those results to generate the support for the funds needed to sustain and expand the program.  That's where we are right now -- we are running out of funds for new families, and we have more calling every day.  

We are running out of time, and running out of money. Can you help us find more places for more kids to do their homework?  Please click on the "make a donation" link and help us out.

What's important here is to realize that homelessness is not a permanent, intractable condition. We can do something about it.

Tags: charity, homeless, homelessness (all tags)



Re: Help Me End Homelessness

Sounds like a great program, and people should give generously. But it needs to be said that there was very little homelessness when I was growing up in the 40s and 50s and well beyond. It is mostly the legacy of the late great Ronald Reagan. I quote Peter Drier:

By the end of Reagan's term in office federal assistance to local governments was cut 60 percent. Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit. The only "urban" program that survived the cuts was federal aid for highways - which primarily benefited suburbs, not cities.

These cutbacks had a disastrous effect on cities with high levels of poverty and limited property tax bases, many of which depended on federal aid. In 1980 federal dollars accounted for 22 percent of big city budgets. By the end of Reagan's second term, federal aid was only 6 percent.


Reagan is lauded as "the great communicator," but he sometimes used his rhetorical skills to stigmatize the poor. During his stump speeches while dutifully promising to roll back welfare, Reagan often told the story of a so-called "welfare queen" in Chicago who drove a Cadillac and had ripped off $150,000 from the government using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husbands. Journalists searched for this "welfare cheat" in the hopes of interviewing her and discovered that she didn't exist.

The imagery of "welfare cheats" that persists to this day helped lay the groundwork for the 1996 welfare reform law, pushed by Republicans and signed by President Clinton.

The most dramatic cut in domestic spending during the Reagan years was for low-income housing subsidies. Reagan appointed a housing task force dominated by politically connected developers, landlords and bankers. In 1982 the task force released a report that called for "free and deregulated" markets as an alternative to government assistance - advice Reagan followed. In his first year in office Reagan halved the budget for public housing and Section 8 to about $17.5 billion. And for the next few years he sought to eliminate federal housing assistance to the poor altogether.

In the 1980s the proportion of the eligible poor who received federal housing subsidies declined. In 1970 there were 300,000 more low-cost rental units (6.5 million) than low-income renter households (6.2 million). By 1985 the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the number of low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million, a disparity of 3.3 million units.

Another of Reagan's enduring legacies is the steep increase in the number of homeless people, which by the late 1980s had swollen to 600,000 on any given night - and 1.2 million over the course of a year. Many were Vietnam veterans, children and laid-off workers.

In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that "people who are sleeping on the grates...the homeless...are homeless, you might say, by choice."

The whole article on Reagan's Legacy is well worth reading. It is important to remember that the project to make government not work didn't start with W.

As Adam points out, it can be far more expensive to ignore those of our people in need than to deal with them with proper respect. Laudable as programs like this are, we need to push the Federal government to take care of our greatest natural resource, the American people. This is not merely a matter of altruism. As far as I can tell, Edwards is the only candidate advocating for this.

by Hong Kong Chevy 2007-09-14 11:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Help Me End Homelessness

I was with you until that last sentence.

by Adam B 2007-09-15 05:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Help Me End Homelessness

For example, it was one of the other candidates who famously noted, "Streets do not exist in civilized societies for the purpose of people sleeping there."

by Steve M 2007-09-15 05:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Help Me End Homelessness

Okay, I stand corrected. "Take care of" people can have more than one meaning. Unfortunately, for the now-candidate in question, Guiliani, "taking care of" the homeless meant to arrest them. This was the point of your quote, and I think this only strengthens my main point, that poverty and homelessness are political, as well as my last little point that Edwards is the only one who seems to have addressed the issue in any positive way.

Other candidates may have mentioned the issue in passing, but I don't know of any other candidate than Edwards who has made helping those in poverty a major issue of his campaign. I wish the other candidates would prove me wrong.

by Hong Kong Chevy 2007-09-16 02:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Help Me End Homelessness

I receive countless fundraising letters from Democrats in safe districts.

I decided to give to this great cause instead.

Cheers to Adam for taking the time to make a difference.  A really big difference, for these families.

by Steve M 2007-09-15 06:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Help Me End Homelessness

Thank you.  We really appreciate it.

by Adam B 2007-09-15 01:32PM | 0 recs


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