Our History: Two Decades Of Effective Solutions
Since its beginning in 1988, Project HOME has been a leader in providing comprehensive and effective services to persons who experience chronic homelessness. With innovation, leadership, and an unyielding commitment to the dignity of each person, we have developed nationally recognized programs that have proven that homelessness can be solved. We have also been a leader in Philadelphia in responding to the root causes of homelessness by helping to rebuild low-income neighborhoods and by engaging in political advocacy to bring about positive public policies for low-income and homeless persons.
Project HOME's beginnings
In 1988, Philadelphia had a large street population, and only a handful of programs were able to provide anything beyond emergency shelter. Many of those on the streets were chronically homeless: they suffered from severe mental illness and/or substance abuse and were "falling through the cracks" of the scant services that were available. Some of them had lived on the streets for several years.
Project HOME grew out of the experience and expertise of two programs that had been providing services to homeless persons: Bethesda Project and Women of Hope. In the winter of 1988-1989, these two organizations pooled their personnel and administrative resources to respond to the unmet needs of the chronically homeless persons who were still living on the streets. With funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the donation of a vacant recreation center from the City of Philadelphia, they set up a temporary shelter called the Mother Katherine Drexel Residence. Its goal was to provide a refuge for chronically homeless men who sought food, clothing, medical care, employment and to offer a sense of dignity and belonging.
It was widely believed that many of these men, who had lived on Center City streets for five years or more, would never come into shelter or accept services. But the men did come into the new facility, which operated from January through April 1989. They returned night after night, formed a community, and worked to maintain it.
The Mother Katherine Drexel Residence was remarkably successful in breaking the cycle of homelessness for many of its residents. Of the eighty-eight men who stayed at the Residence for at least one month, many were able to reduce their sense of isolation and have returned to the mainstream of society. Numerous residents accepted substance abuse and mental health services. The majority of the men moved on to residential treatment programs or permanent housing, and many went on to employment or job training.
The experience of the Drexel Residence proved that chronically homeless men and women—including those most abandoned and alienated from social services—are capable of reentering the mainstream of society. At the conclusion of the winter of 1989, at the urging of the community of homeless men and women, Project HOME began building on the success of the Drexel Residence by envisioning and planning for a broader program of residential and support services.
After a second successful year of providing FEMA-funded emergency winter shelter during the winter of 1989-1990, Project HOME opened its first transitional house in June, 1990. The Diamond Street residence, in the former Most Precious Blood Convent, offered a safe, stable environment for up to twelve men making progress on various recovery, health care, education and employment goals.
During the winter of 1990-1991, Project HOME ran a third emergency winter shelter at a facility provided by Bell-Atlantic Properties. Again, many of the residents made progress in health care, recovery, mental health treatment and other areas. That summer, Project HOME opened a second transitional residence for ten men—The Crossing in West Philadelphia.
In 1992, working in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia's Office of Mental Health, Project HOME opened two new programs designed to meet the needs of mentally disabled homeless persons: the Kairos House transitional residence, and the In Community Supported Independent Living Program. Also, in 1992 Project HOME took over operation of the Outreach Coordination Center, to coordinate public and private outreach efforts to homeless persons still living on the streets. That same year we took over operation of St. Columba's, an emergency shelter for older, frail men.
Along with the residential programs, Project HOME has sought to provide comprehensive support services designed to meet the needs of homeless persons making the transition from the streets to independent living. Since its beginning in the Drexel Residence, Project HOME has networked with a variety of agencies and programs to provide health care, mental health and recovery services, and employment/job training opportunities. During the early and mid-1990s, we added full-time staff positions to provide employment counseling, job training, and addictions counseling.
The next few years saw tremendous growth, as Project HOME became more recognized as an effective organization. From 1992 to 1995, Project HOME expanded its residential program, especially as more of our residents were able to move into permanent housing units. In 1993, recognizing the growing need of homeless men struggling with addiction, Project HOME opened the St. Elizabeth Recovery Residence. With the help of a major grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Shelter Plus Care program, we were able to add additional units at In Community, renovate and expand Kairos House, renovate both The Crossing and Diamond Street into permanent housing and add new permanent units at 1523 Fairmount Avenue.
Education and Employment Initiatives
As residents were gaining more stability in the various programs, Project HOME worked to develop its employment and education programs. In 1993, we opened three job-training/employment initiatives, including the Back HOME Café, Our Daily Threads thrift store and an expanded cottage industry program. In 1995, we helped begin a joint venture, Cornerstone Community Book & Art Center, to provide employment opportunities for our residents. In the same period, we expanded adult literacy and arts programs.
1994 was also an important year because we finally won a four-year political and legal battle to open 1515 Fairmount Avenue, which would provide 48 units of permanent housing. The legal victory became a landmark fair-housing ruling.
Women and Children
In 1995, realizing that an increasing number of mentally ill women were on the streets, Project HOME opened Haven of Hope, a temporary entry-level residence. Two years later, we opened a permanent residence for mentally ill women from the streets—Women of Change.
In the spring of 2000, we opened our first residence for homeless families—Rowan Homes —providing housing and services to thirty-one families.
Along with our programs for homeless adults, Project HOME has always sought to reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods. We opened our first Seeds of Hope after school program in 1991 in the Diamond Street neighborhood. A second Seeds of Hope program opened at 1515 Fairmount in 1992. Since 1996, Project HOME has been participating in the Philadelphia Plan which, with the corporate investment of Crown, Cork & Seal, enables us to undertake comprehensive community development in the neighborhoods around our St. Elizabeth's and Diamond Street residences. Working in conjunction with neighbors, these efforts include development of affordable home-ownership for low-income families, economic development, educational and recreational programs for children and adults, and neighborhood beautification efforts.
Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs
In 2004, Project HOME opened the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs, a 38,000-square-foot state-of-the-art education and technology center. It forms the centerpiece of our neighborhood revitalization strategy for the St. Elizabeth/Diamond Street sections of North Philadelphia. Located on the 1900 block of N. Judson Street , the Center's programs focus on the integration of technology with art, education and enterprise. Programs are tailored to help the residents of the community—children, youth, adults and families—move towards greater prosperity by increasing their educational and employment opportunities through comprehensive technology and literacy instruction.
In 2005, Project HOME sought to address the city of Philadelphia's affordable housing crisis by opening Kate's Place. It features 144 SROs ( single room occupancy) apartments for low-to moderate-income individuals in a wonderfully renovated historic eleven-story architectural gem in Center City. Project HOME has received much praise as a national model of comprehensive, effective services, and has been recognized as a leader in Philadelphia. Our co-founder and Executive Director, Sr. Mary Scullion, has won numerous awards for her vision and accomplishments, including the prestigious Philadelphia Award in 1991, and is acknowledged as one of Philadelphia's most influential leaders. In 2002, Sister Mary and Project HOME's Chief Financial Officer and co-founder Joan Dawson McConnon were honored with the Ford Foundation's Leadership For a Changing World Award.