I Am Project HOME: Sam Santiago
When Sam Santiago starts his day, he is prepared to expect the unexpected. Maybe it’s picking up a birthday cake for someone he’s recently met on an outreach call, or perhaps he’s pulling over to help someone in need on his way to work. Whatever he encounters, it’s all in a day’s work for Project HOME’s veteran outreach worker.
Perhaps it’s his training as a police officer or his experience as a private investigator, but Sam knows how to talk to people. This is important, because his job isn’t easy. Every day he heads into the heart of Kensington, an area in North Philly most impacted by the opioid epidemic. “Sometimes working in Kensington, it can really be like heartbreak and frustration and all kinds of emotions at the same time,” says Sam. “There’s so many kids that need help, and you can only help one at a time.”
His job is to make connections with people, check on folks he’s met the previous day or week, extend a hand of recovery or a bed for the night, and show them that there’s hope. Sometimes it works and someone decides they’re ready to come in. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sam has learned not to take it personally. What he does take personally though, is making sure that people’s needs are taken care of. “I’m always going to advocate for someone,” says Sam about the people he serves. Sam would also be the first person to tell you that to do outreach work, it has to be personal. For him, that personal story was losing several family members to addiction. It’s a story he shares often with those he meets who are dealing with substance use disorder on the streets of Kensington, hoping it’ll convince them to seek recovery.
“Sam embodies the soul of outreach every day,” says his supervisor Carol Thomas. “He builds trust, never gives up on anyone and, no matter the circumstances, he makes sure no one is forgotten.” The affection, respect and appreciation everyone has in outreach for each other and people they see experiencing homelessness is inspirational, motivational, and central to what we do at Project HOME. Without this crucial work, many of our brothers and sisters on the streets would feel abandoned and forgotten about. It all starts with a simple hello, a connection and trust built by people like Sam who bring their heart and soul to work every single day.