How the ‘angel’ of the Reading Terminal is helping the homeless come inside | Mike Newall
Breakfast by breakfast, coffee by coffee, the Terminal's homeless outreach worker is building trust with the people who have nowhere else to go but Philadelphia's iconic market.
Early every morning, as the Reading Terminal Market comes to life, and folks find their spots at tables in the center court, Terez Giuliana looks for her regulars. The ones for whom the market isn’t just a food court or a grocery, but a shelter.
There’s John Silvetti, whom Giuliana calls her “paisan,” who makes his bed in the tunnel outside the Convention Center and spends mornings at a table by Beiler’s bakery. There’s Richard, who has Tourette’s syndrome and whose tics make it difficult for him to spend the night in shelters. He passes his days at a table by the center court statue of Philbert the Pig.
There’s Lynn with the beautiful hazel eyes, who carries her belongings in a suitcase and chats with Giuliana about tea, faith, and food. There’s Michael, who hovers patiently near anyone who sits in his favorite seat.
Bit by bit, breakfast by breakfast, coffee by coffee, Giuliana has worked to build trust in her regulars, in the hope of getting them better shelter than the market can provide. Since April, she’s been a Project HOME outreach worker whose sole territory is the Terminal — a first for both organizations. Every morning, she patrols the aisles between the fancy cheese shops, the butchers, the bakeries and the poultry stalls, weaving around the lines at the cheesesteak joints, searching for faces in the crowd who seem as if they need help.
“Hi, I’m Teresa,” she’ll say. “I work here at the market. I’m here to help people with anything they might need.”
Last spring, vendors started noticing more and more homeless people frequenting the market, said Anuj Gupta, the Terminal’s general manager. But they wanted to help people, not kick them out.
“What we need to be doing before we talk about how it affects our business,” said Elizabeth Halen, the owner of Flying Monkey Bakery and the president of the Market Merchants Association, “is talk about why there are people here who are hungry and who don’t have homes.”
So in April they reached out to Project HOME — and got Giuliana, a 63-year-old retiree from Roxborough who now works for Sister Mary Scullion. She says the work is simply what she’s supposed to do. To bring a little hope in the face of despair.
And to get to do it in the Terminal, her jewel of the city, is Giuliana’s dream job. (This is a woman who, 29 years ago, in labor with her daughter, envisioned herself strolling the fruit aisles of the market when her doctor told her to think of a happy place.)
Now she strolls those aisles looking for the people she’s working so hard to reach. She and another Ambassador of Hope, Nicole Johnson, have helped 30 people get into shelters and housing. And they’ve built relationships with hundreds more.
“It’s been a blessing — she’s an angel,” said Frank Nardo, the market’s head of security. “They’ve helped us open up a line of communication with the homeless. They’ve helped us build a lot of bridges, and that has eased the pressure tremendously.”
Giuliana begins each morning with a loop around the market, power-walking past her favorite stalls and calling out compliments to the vendors. “They have 12 types of bacon!” she yelled, passing Hatville Deli. “Stunningly good!” she proclaimed of the Haltemann’s prime roast.
Her speech is peppered with the gentlest of interjections: “Good grief,” she’ll whisper after a particularly encouraging interaction, or, “Holy smokes and garters!”
Her approach is just as soft. “God, you don’t know how happy I am to see you with a smile on your face,” she said on Friday, to a homeless woman she last saw in the throes of a diabetic shock episode in the ladies’ bathroom.
Trust can build over everything from a cup of coffee to an intervention in a minor theft — like the day John took the shoeshine man’s coat. (“It was dusty,” he told Giuliana, by way of explanation. “Everything you own is dusty, John,” she told him, laughing, “but it’s still yours.”)
The work is paying off.
John, Richard, and Lynn are all considering spots in respites and shelters, to join the more than two dozen already inside.
On Friday, there was another small victory: a woman who sat in the center court, her prescription bottles before her. Giuliana had spent days trying to connect with her, but the woman only ever flipped her off.
Today, she offered her name: Evelyn.
And she asked for Giuliana’s number — in case she ever needed her.
“Progress,” Giuliana whispered, walking away. “Dear God, please.”
And she moved on through the market.