Roots and Branches: Reflections from Sister Mary (Winter 2023)
Read the full issue of the Winter 2023 News from HOME here.
Times are tough for many of us. We are still feeling the impact of the pandemic and the economic downturn of the past few years. Particularly hard hit are those in our society who are without homes, living on the streets, struggling to economically survive, and at risk of becoming homeless. An ever-tightening housing market that is catering to those with resources is continuing to shrink the supply of affordable housing.
The reality of homelessness has become more visible in many communities and is forcing a public reckoning. Cities like Los Angeles and New York are labelling homelessness a public emergency and developing highly publicized plans to respond – though those responses are mixed in focus and possible impact.
Twenty-four years ago, the city of Philadelphia reached a similar crossroads, grappling with a crisis of homelessness. Like 2023, it was an election year for a new mayor. Project HOME brought together dozens of advocacy organizations, nonprofits, religious groups, and others into an unprecedented coalition we called “Election 1999: Leadership to End Homelessness.” (Years later, this same coalition would evolve into Vote For Homes!) Throughout the campaign, we engaged in extensive outreach to candidates (including one of the largest candidate’s forums of the entire campaign), large-scale voter registration, and public education efforts about the urgency of the issue, and a Voter’s Guide. Shortly after winning the election, Mayor-elect John Street called on many coalition members to create a first-ever city homelessness task force to help develop policies for his new administration.
The resulting partnership between city government, homeless advocates, nonprofits, and the business community was a groundbreaking effort that helped Philadelphia become a national model for addressing homelessness. Though we faced many bumps in the road and ongoing political struggles, as a community we were also able to develop thousands of units of supportive housing that significantly decreased the numbers of people forced to live on our city’s streets.
In Philadelphia this year, we will be electing a new mayor and a new City Council – which is a crucial opportunity for our community to take stock, to forge new directions, to tackle issues with new vision and energy. Project HOME will once again be working with other groups to make homelessness a key issue. We have a tremendous track record of proven solutions that can be the basis for concrete and comprehensive policy approaches. History tells us that when we can generate the political will, we can make real progress – both in reducing the number of people on our streets and enhancing the health of our entire city.
We will be reporting on our efforts in the coming months – and we will need your support as we register voters, reach out to candidates, and make sure homelessness is on the agenda throughout the election year.
We have no illusions: the challenges are daunting – and our efforts in Philadelphia are impacted by both state and national politics. But when we see members of our community on the streets in Center City; when we witness the terrible suffering of so many people struggling with substance use in Kensington; when we see the divides of wealth and poverty that corrode our community; when we see our young people losing hope for real opportunities in life – we know that we must act. We draw hope from the powerful stories of transformation of our residents and your enduring support of our work. This election year, with your help, we will turn that hope into real action and lasting change.
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