For Mother's Day, families all over the region are showering moms with love and affection, breakfast in bed, flowers, and maybe some gift cards. Mother's Day, however, looks a whole lot different for the mothers who find themselves at the doorsteps of places such as the People's Emergency Center (PEC).

PEC was established 40 years ago to serve a growing and unserved population — women and children experiencing homelessness. In 1972, there were no options in the state, let alone Philadelphia, for a single homeless woman to seek emergency shelter with her children.

Today, these programs abound, with some great local examples such as Dignity Housing in Northwest Philadelphia and the Drueding Center in North Philadelphia. Despite the increase in program options, however, the demand for emergency family housing continues to outweigh the supply. And it's not difficult to understand why.

According to the National Center for Family Homelessness, 84 percent of homeless families are led by single mothers. At PEC, that figure is 100 percent. That said, not having a home is just part of the struggle. Half of the mothers who come to PEC cite pregnancy as their most pressing health concern, while more than a third reveal past experience with domestic violence, sexual abuse, or the foster-care system. Indeed, many of the mothers at PEC cite all four.

Families experiencing homelessness are not usually the ones you see on the street. They are known as the "unseen homeless" — moving from couch to couch, overstaying their welcome at a friend's home, or choosing life with an abuser over life on the street. The unstable nature of their housing is just the outward manifestation of the unstable nature of their lives. But now with children in tow, for that young single mother, stability becomes a more pressing goal. It means the potential for a better future for them and their children.

In Philadelphia, every year, more than 2,000 women engage "the homeless system" in search of that stability for their children — enduring multiple visits to the city's intake center and countless calls to shelters that are full and oversubscribed, all in the hopes that their journey toward a more stable future might begin.

Entering the system may look easy, but inviting the government into your home life is anything but. Indeed, it is an act of courage — one that any mother who has ever made sacrifices for her children can understand.

So today, as we love our mothers around the region, consider adding to your gift list a mother you don't know. Reach out to the women who are struggling to write new chapters for their lives and the lives of their children.

For more information on the programs mentioned above, visit www.pec-cares.org, www.oneneighborhood.org, or www.druedingcenter.org.