A House of Peace
The following article is in the just-released spring edition of our News from HOME print newsletter. If you would like to receive the newsletter in the mail, click here. You can read more of the newsletter online here.
When Mark Jones was first shown what would be his new apartment at Francis House of Peace, he fell in love with it right away. “It was like heaven,” he says.
A 59-year-old Philly native and veteran, Mark had been homeless on and off for more years than he can remember, struggling with addiction and going in and out of periods of recovery. As he gradually gained sobriety and stability, he spent three years on a waiting list for housing. Today, his new home provides him the positive environment he needs as he maintains his recovery and continues to get his life together, to rebuild family relationships, and to make progress toward his goal of employment.
This beautiful new structure rising up nine stories in the heart of Chinatown has provided Mark with new hope – and it is a sign of hope for our entire city.
Frances House of Peace (named in Chinese Ping An, “House of Peace”) at 810 Arch Street is Project HOME’s newest residential development. Its doors officially opened earlier this spring, with 94 efficiency apartments. It was made possible through a partnership with Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, and the building was designed with a special eye toward reflecting the unique character of the neighborhood. Many of the residents have histories of homelessness; some have low incomes and need the affordable housing. Many are seniors from the Chinatown community. Twelve residents are young adults, participating in Project HOME’s growing specialized program to support young adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
This residence is the fourth project of the Middleton Partnership, created with a transformational leadership gift from Leigh and John Middleton, that supports Project HOME’s strategic plan to end and prevent chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia by leveraging the support of both public and private funders. Other key partners in the project include the Raynier Institute and Foundation, the Maguire Foundation, Janet and John Haas, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and FHLBank Atlanta. Lead investors include Capital One, National Association, and the National Equity Fund.
The name is inspired by last year’s visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia. His message of mercy, justice, and inclusion resonates deeply with the mission of Project HOME. His spirit of compassion is a constant inspiration as we continue our work to address homelessness and poverty. The Chinese name, Ping An (“House of Peace”), conveys a similar spirit. The design of the property includes a special peace garden, featuring the Knotted Grotto that was a major part of the Mercy and Justice campaign that welcomed Pope Francis. (See www.projecthome.org/mercyandjustice.)
Nasir Fears lives in one of the units dedicated to our young adult program. At age 21, he’s already seen his fair share of struggles and stormy relationships. After growing up in an intact family, he found himself on his own, in large part because of how he identified himself. After a period of anger and what he calls “craziness,” he had a productive year with the Job Corps program, but he still desperately needed “somewhere to lay my head at night.” One of this fellow program participants told him about Francis House of Peace and urged him to apply.
“This is a new experience,” Nasir says of his new home. “I never really had my own place. It’s fantastic to look around and say, ‘This is really mine,’ and to know nobody is going to yell at me to get out.” He is planning a return to school and looking for work in the field of nursing. For now, he is appreciating the “positive energy” at Francis House of Peace, as well as the resources and support from the Young Adult program. “I feel at home, and I don’t want to lose that sense,” he says. “I feel this is going to be a time of real change in my life.”
To help facilitate such real change, residents like Mark Jones and Nasir Fears have access to all Project HOME services, including integrated medical care and fitness classes, employment training, and educational and technological opportunities through our Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs.
The partnership with Chinatown was a unique undertaking for us. Staff at Francis House wondered if the mixed, multicultural populations in the residence would create challenges. Program Manager Christina Fidanza feels those challenges are in fact new opportunities. “Our residents are eager to learn about each other,” she says. “We are going to offer language courses to help facilitate basic communication, and we will have some cultural courses to allow for greater understanding and help residents avoid any unintended cultural offenses.” The staff is also planning various activities, using arts, food and other cultural expressions, to celebrate the special community that is forming at 810 Arch Street.
Mark Jones appreciates that unique and diverse community. “People are respectful and caring,” he says.” You can see the gleam in his eyes when he says, “House of Peace -- that’s what it is here.”
Then, recognizing where he’s come from, he adds, “They need more places like this.”