This story originally appeared in our winter edition of News from HOME.
Josie Nyame remembers vividly that low point of her life: “My whole world was crumbling around me.” She had been evicted from her Section 8 housing, and her four children placed with their father. Homeless, sleeping on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and on a bench in Logan Square, she knew she had to change her life.
A long journey of recovery began, which eventually led Josie to Project HOME. She moved into our Kate’s Place residence two years ago, and soon began working with our staff toward employment. She was placed in a job as a restroom attendant at the Parkway Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
“Today,” Josie says, “I have been in recovery for seven years, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I have seen myself grow mentally, spiritually, and physically. This is the start of my new life. I proved to myself and to my family that I could do it. I have never felt so happy and alive.”
Josie’s story bears out an important lesson: Housing alone is insufficient. Ending homelessness also demands education, medical care, and a pathway for re-entry into the wider world through gainful employment. The Haas Initiative for Integrated Recovery, Employment, and Social Enterprises, developed by Project HOME’s Employment Services staff and funded by the Otto Haas Charitable Trust, is critical to our mission.
Over the years, Project HOME has experimented in a variety of efforts to provide meaningful work and income for residents, including several in-house businesses. In recent years, while continuing to identify jobs for residents within Project HOME, we have focused more on equipping residents and finding them work opportunities in outside businesses and organizations.
And the program has taken flight. A few years ago, a vital partnership was struck up between Project HOME and the Free Library of Philadelphia, with financial support from Bank of America. Currently, 17 residents are employed at either the HOME Page Café or as restroom attendants (like Josie Nyame).
Project HOME staff shepherd participants through the employment process and offer educational opportunities grounded in recovery principles, including at our Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs. Staff work individually with each resident to coordinate supportive services, such as GED and recovery. Participants learn to create resumés, and they experience a surge of self-worth when they see their work history in printed form. They learn career planning and how to use computers for job searches. The initiative prepares them for interviews and invites them to presentations with potential employers. When a resident is hired or engaged in an internship, the program provides on-site job coaching and regular check-ins.
Our long-standing partnership with PECO, employing veterans both at PECO and at other businesses throughout the community, served as a model for our residential internships. Interns work with employers 12 hours and participate in three hours of job training each week. Most of these internships result in permanent placement with the partner company.
In the last fiscal year, through the Haas Initiative for Integrated Recovery, Employment, and Social Enterprises, 115 people were placed in employment. People like Robert Long, a military veteran who lost both career and marriage to a devastating addiction which eventually led to homelessness. A resident of JBJ Soul Homes, he participated in the PECO Veterans Training and Employment Program. He is interning at PECO, maintaining work management schedules via computer, and will stay on for an additional six-month training period after the end of the internship.
Or people like Steven Reed, whose untreated schizophrenia led to years of homelessness. He was finally able to move into our Kate’s Place residence, and today this former teacher is working as a volunteer tutor in the afterschool enrichment programs at our Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs.
These are just some of the success stories, and we are grateful for every placement. But we know more success stories are possible with more partners in the business community and private sector. We need many more employers to offer internships and hire residents. Housing is essential, but employment restores dignity – and heals our community.
We are grateful to our many invaluable partners who make success in the Haas Initiative for Integrated Recovery, Employment, and Social Enterprises possible. Special thanks to the Otto Haas Charitable Trust, PECO, the Raynier Institute and Foundation, and Independence Blue Cross for continuing to provide funding for these life-changing internship programs. Their long-standing support is reinforced by our internship and job placement partners – Allied Barton; AmeriHealth Caritas; AC Linen; Fresh Direct; Fresh Grocer; Penn Jersey; SEPTA; Sheraton Society Hill Hotel; and Walmart. Their investment in employment stabilizes lives in a way that nothing else can.
You can be part of this important work. If your business is able to offer employment or an internship, we will work with you. For six months, Project HOME pays the intern’s salary, provided you seriously consider hiring the intern at the close of the internship.We provide job coaching for direct hires as well as interns. Please consider participating, and invite colleagues and friends as well. Contact Nitasha Rivera, Employment Specialist, 215-232-7272, or firstname.lastname@example.org.