Raising the Roof of Opportunity
The following article appears in the new edition of "News from HOME," the newly designed Project HOME newsletter, which was mailed to our supporters. Subscribe here.
Earlier this year, several members of the Project HOME community attended a two-day festival commemorating the friendship and prophetic witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. One of the keynote speakers was Rabbi Michael Lerner, a long-time activist and editor of Tikkun magazine. As Rabbi Lerner articulated his ambitious vision for a more just, peaceable, and loving society, he admitted that many people would counter that his ideas were “unrealistic.” “Realism,” Lerner argued, can be a cover for keeping things the way they are. “Our slogan,” he said, “is ‘Don’t be realistic!’”
Lerner’s challenge speaks to us at Project HOME. Given the persistent crisis of homelessness that has long plagued American cities, it is tempting to assume it is a permanent feature of the urban landscape. Meanwhile, far too many “plans to end homelessness” gather dust on shelves in bureaucratic offices. It seems, at first blush, pretty unrealistic to think we can “end homelessness.”
But we dare to say it: We can end chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia.
The recent groundbreaking of JBJ Soul Homes represents more than just one more residence of Project HOME. It is part of an ambitious, strategic multi-year plan we are developing, in partnership with many other groups, to create a range of housing and support services that will dramatically reduce the numbers of chronically homeless persons on the streets of Center City. We believe that, with the realization of this plan, we can and will make chronic street homelessness a rarity, not the norm of life in Center City.
A key element in allowing us to dream so ambitiously and work to realize that dream is the generosity and leadership of John and Leigh Middleton. Their transformational leadership grant will serve as a catalyst to forging the public/private partnership that will make the “unrealistic” come true.
How do we dare be so “unrealistic”? Our City is blessed with a remarkable network of housing and service providers with proven track record of effective programs which have empowered thousands of persons to make a successful transition from street homelessness to stability. We have a strong package of both proven best practices and promising new ideas.
We also draw hope from our talented and committed partners and collaborators from all sectors of society, who are working with us as we craft a comprehensive plan, and who will be instrumental in bringing it to reality. This includes allies in government, at all levels, as well as tremendous partners in the nonprofit world. It includes generous and visionary funders and talented policy and research experts. Not to mention people who have come together – consumers, funders, business leaders, volunteers, consultants, providers, allies, advocates, doctors, communities of faith, families, and other friends – all of whom share a passion and vision of ending chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia.
Any plan of such scale carries risks and complications. Unforeseen political challenges or a deepening economic crisis could slow down our efforts. But we cannot help but be hopeful. The need is urgent, but the vision compels us, and the broad community that shares the vision inspires and empowers us.
Is it hope or naiveté? Look at the structure rising from the formerly empty lot at Ridge and Fairmount. Ask any of the hundreds of Project HOME residents who recall dark days of despair but now live in their own place, who work at jobs, who are community leaders. And then join us in this project of daring and hope – help us end chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia.