The Future Has Never Looked Brighter
This story originally appeared in our Spring 2019 Edition of News from HOME.
As 21-year-old Tahjenae opens the door to her new apartment at Gloria Casarez Residence, she’s positively beaming. “I feel like this is an amazing opportunity,” she says.
Tahjenae is one of 30 young adults who moved into our new LGBTQ-friendly building on 1315 North 8th Street. The residence is named after Gloria Casarez, a Philly native who fought for LGBTQ rights across the nation. This new 36,547-square-foot property provides affordable housing for young adults (ages 18 – 23 at entry) like Tahjenae who are homeless, have experienced homelessness, or are at risk of homelessness, including those aging out of the foster care system. This is the first permanent supportive housing of its kind in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and among the first in the nation. But to Tahjenae, who has been in the foster care system since she was 12, this place is so much more than a building. “I got the support and services and then I can relax, I’m at home and it’s beautiful,” she says, smiling.
Gloria Casarez’s Young Adult Program Manager Kate Gormley knows the extent of what residents like Tahjenae have gone through to find their way to Project HOME. “Our young residents are very vulnerable. There might be some mental illness, some degree of recovery, there’s really a lot to figure out,” Gormley says. The Young Adult Program helps residents to deal with these issues, explains Gormley, and she says it’s an important part of life at Gloria Casarez.
Since its inception in 2014, the program has successfully helped 52 young adults with housing, employment, education, health care services, and life skills. And the program continues to expand. It started as a pilot at JBJ Soul Homes - through the leadership of Jon Bon Jovi, Leigh Middleton and the Neubauer Family Foundation - then the program expanded to Francis House of Peace and Ruth Williams House at the Gene & Marlene Epstein Building. Subsequently, members of the LGBTQ community identified the need for a culturally competent and LGBTQ-led residence. Thanks to the generosity and leadership of Mel Heifetz, Arthur Kaplan and Duane Perry, and John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, the Gloria Casarez Residence was conceived and developed. With its addition, Project HOME now has 70 dedicated apartments for young adults, all with access to the program. Most importantly, it seems to be working; 80 percent of participants have either full or part-time employment and are in school. “What really ensures someone’s ability to maintain their housing moving forward are their educational accomplishments and their ability to maintain and improve income,” explains Gormley.
The Young Adult Program is a strategic component of MPOWER, a Project HOME community investment partnership, in helping to prevent chronic street homelessness. Nationally, young adult homelessness is on the rise, and an estimated 40 percent identify as LGBTQ. It’s that LGBTQ support at Gloria Casarez that means a lot to new resident James. “I appreciate it because it helps us explore and educate others,” he says.
James, aged 20 and who identifies as bisexual, travelled a long and difficult road to get to Gloria Casarez Residence but he knew that if he could just get out of his home and find the right atmosphere, things would change for him. “I kept saying, I’m making my own place, I’m going to be away from these people and now look at it!”
James is working on getting his GED and is planning a big future for those who will come after him. “I want to open up my own behavioral health centers more directed towards LGBTQ families and individual children,” James says, “because I didn’t have that when I was young.” He remembers people advising him that it’s easy, stay strong, and you’ll get through it. But he says they didn’t really comprehend how much people in the LGBTQ community really go through.
James’ focus on helping others is not unique among the young adults that Gormley has worked with over the years she’s been at Project HOME. “We have some of the most amazing young adult residents -folks who come to us with so little, who give so much to the community, it’s just incredible.”
It’s that spirit of resilience that brought these young adults to Project HOME’s Gloria Casarez Residence. Gormley says when you add that to education, employment, and life skills, which the Young Adult Program offers, then that’s what allows this group to not just live independently, but really thrive. Tahjenae, for one, is certainly ready to take off. “There’s nothing stopping me now. I’m about to blossom because I felt like this was what I was working for all my life.”
Gloria Casarez Residence was recently awarded the Blue Ribbon Award for Community Development Excellence from the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. We are grateful to the many public and private partners who made the Gloria Casarez Residence possible. The City of Philadelphia; Raymond James Tax Credit Funds; TD Bank; Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency; Philadelphia Housing Authority; US Department of Housing and Urban Development; City of Philadelphia Division of Housing and Community Development; Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Leigh and John Middleton; John Alchin and Hal Marryatt; William Penn Foundation; Arthur Kaplan and Duane Perry; Maguire Foundation; Mel Heifetz; Aileen and Brian Roberts; Ira Lubert and Pam Estadt; The Neubauer Family Foundation; and Philadelphia Foundation.