Roots and Branches: Reflections from Sister Mary (Fall 2019)
It all started on the streets. Even when we had scarce resources to offer, the trusting relationships we formed with those men and women, many of whom had logged ten or more years on the streets, were the seeds of transformation. They gave us hope and energy to truly believe that chronic homelessness could be solved.
After three decades, outreach on the streets is still at the heart of our mission. While we expand our pool of permanent supportive housing, there are still men and women on the streets, often dealing with serious behavioral health issues. Street outreach is often the first point of access they have to the services we offer.
Street outreach is a critical component of our overall strategy that enables persons to make the transition from the streets to stability. But it is also more than that: the relationships we build on the streets teach us about our common humanity, the deep truth of human dignity and the possibility of real community that transcends all the ways society divides us. Over these many years, we constantly learn that when people are socially marginalized and thereby dehumanized, we must go to the margins and there build meaningful, mutual relationships that have the potential to liberate all of us.
Over the years our work has evolved with deeper understandings of the issues surrounding chronic homelessness, new approaches, and new partnerships to enhance effectiveness. Our main article on page 1 (“New Outreach Partnerships Bringing Hope to Center City”) outlines our latest initiative, the Ambassadors of Hope program, an innovative partnership with the Center City District, Reading Terminal Market and the Fashion District with vital support from the City’s Department of Behavioral Health and the Philadelphia Police Department.
Another constant over the years has been immensely talented and deeply caring staff members, especially those who do the front-line engagement with persons on the streets. Without the beautiful combination of talent and skills along with compassion and empathy, our outreach work would not be possible. (See the portrait of one of our veteran outreach workers, Sam Santiago, in “I Am Project HOME”)
In our earliest days, we understood how necessary it was to take the time each day to visit and get to know people. We listened to their stories and their dreams for a better future. Those connections and that listening are still needed today. We continue to go out to those streets, continuing to learn how to open doors of opportunity so that people can find their way home.