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Philly and Project HOME announce new awareness campaign for homelessness

Messages from formerly homeless people are seen as the best way to reach those living out in the open.

David Brown, who lived homeless in Philadelphia for 25 years, is part an ad campaign to help the homeless in Center City Philadelphia.
David Brown, who lived homeless in Philadelphia for 25 years, is part an ad campaign to help the homeless in Center City Philadelphia.Read moreAlfred Lubrano / Staff

A bracing wind shot through Dilworth Plaza on Tuesday morning as Center City District and Project HOME leaders gathered to announce a campaign to place ads in bus shelters that offer help to homeless people.

The cold was a reminder of how it feels to live uncovered on the street, as if campaign organizers from Project HOME and the Center City District understood that the best way to discuss homelessness was to present their ideas in the late-fall chill.

“As we know, it’s really cold outside,” said Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME, a nonprofit that aids the homeless. “And today, new people will end up on our streets. How can we best communicate to them where they can get shelter and a meal?”

The answers, she said, were the 70 bus-shelter (also called transit-shelter) ads — 50 digital, 20 print — that are being placed throughout Center City this week. In the ads, five people who were once homeless impart the message to those who currently are living rough: “Your story doesn’t end here. I know because mine didn’t.”

The longer people live homeless, the harder it is for them to come back in, Scullion said. “We want the ads to help them take their first steps home.” The ad posters provide specific information about where people can access services and housing.

Liz Hersh, director of the city’s Office of Homeless Services, said the idea “is inspiring to all of us."

Center City District President Paul Levy said the messages from the formerly homeless spokespeople will hopefully “inspire others to follow them on the path to recovery.”

Research has shown that the vast number of people who fall into homelessness are dealing with addiction and/or mental illness. Project HOME reports there were 799 unsheltered people living in the city as of last January, 499 of whom were in Center City.

One of the people featured in the ads, David Brown, was part of the gathering on Tuesday. Unable to read or write, Brown was homeless for 25 years but now is head sales associate at a boutique run by Project HOME.

“When I decided to come in from outside, I felt love from Project HOME,” said Brown, 62. “They treated me like a human being.”

Offering some cautionary advice, Brown added that “you or anyone else could be homeless tomorrow if you suddenly can’t pay your bills.”

The campaign grew out of a program funded last spring by the Center City District in partnership with Project HOME, the Philadelphia Police Department’s service detail, as well as the city’s Department of Behavioral Health.

During the program, which ran from April through November, teams from the city and Project HOME interacted with homeless people in Center City. The result, according to the Center City District: 134 people chose to come off the street and enter social service, mental health, and housing programs.

In addition to the ads, the campaign will place information cards with retailers, restaurants, hotels, and residential and office buildings in Center City. The cards tell members of the public how they can best help the homeless, and the cards can be handed to people living on the street.

“We are redoubling our efforts to engage those who are living on the streets in Philly to end street homelessness,” Scullion said. Then, to underscore the public’s responsibility to help the homeless, she ended her remarks Tuesday with Project HOME’s motto: “None of us are home until all of us are home.”