Spirit of Generosity: SEPTA
Of the ten largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia ranks first in poverty and deep poverty. Like all major cities, Philadelphia lacks enough affordable housing and thousands have been impacted by the opioid crisis. Many struggling with homelessness and addiction increasingly seek shelter in SEPTA’s stations and terminals when they feel they have nowhere else to go.
The ripple effect of this affordable housing shortage is felt daily by SEPTA’s operations and customers. Which is why in 2012, SEPTA partnered with Project HOME and the City of Philadelphia to open the Hub of Hope homeless engagement center – a first-of-its-kind partnership between a transit system, city government and social service agency.
“Homelessness is a complex societal challenge, and as we dug into it, we knew we needed to develop innovative strategies that – above all else – treat everyone with respect and dignity,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey D. Knueppel.
For six years, from January through April, Project HOME counselors and healthcare providers delivered vital services and care from a modest 150-square-foot storefront winter engagement center in Suburban Station. But homelessness is a year-round, not seasonal, issue. As SEPTA saw an increase of people experiencing homelessness at SEPTA stations and concourses – with as many as 100 individuals observed in Center City Regional Rail Stations at any given time – Knueppel envisioned a larger and better equipped facility that would be open all year. With the support of SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. and the entire SEPTA Board, the new Hub of Hope was born.
SEPTA and the City of Philadelphia partnered to construct a new, 11,000-square-foot, year-round Hub of Hope by transforming an underground concourse space that was last used 25 years ago by the Philadelphia Police Department Transit Division.
Thanks to the generous support of so many in the regional business community, the new Hub of Hope opened in January 2018. Fundraisers in 2017 and 2018 raised over $1.2 million dollars to support both the Hub and critical infrastructure needs at the Sacred Heart Recovery Residence, which assists with supportive and transitional housing for homeless individuals who are ready for recovery. The partners are readying for their next Hub of Hope fundraiser on Thursday, October 31, 2019.
Knueppel, who in August announced his retirement from SEPTA effective at the end of 2019, views his partnership with Project HOME as one of the most meaningful experiences of his 32 years at the Authority. “My first involvement in combatting homelessness was a fundraiser I organized as a student at Cooper Union, and now to be part of an effort that is a model for other transit agencies in other cities is extremely rewarding.”
“Jeff and his entire team at SEPTA have been exceptional leaders,” says Project HOME Executive Director, Sister Mary Scullion, “we feel so blessed by their leadership and the impact they have made on this work and most importantly on the lives of those we serve at the Hub.”