Having spent so much of my life in Philadelphia I am happy to present a hometown success story.
A native of Philadelphia like myself, Sr. Mary Scullion of Project HOME was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009. Why? Because her work serves as a model. “More than 95% of those who cycle through [Project HOME] … have never again returned to life on the streets — a success rate that has made the program a model for dozens of other U.S. cities.”
Project Home began as a city emergency shelter more than 30 years ago. It has grown into a respected organization in Philadelphia that operates 900 housing units and runs job and educational projects as well as a neighborhood wellness and health center.
Here are six excerpts from a much longer piece in an enlightening series in Global Sisters Report, A Place to Call Home focusing on women religious helping people who are homeless or lack adequate shelter.
1. “In the Project HOME community, we’ve always understood that homelessness is the canary in the mine. It’s the prophetic call to all of us that there’s something radically wrong in our society if anybody is living on our streets.”
2. Project Home’s vision statement ‘None of us are home until all of us are home’ Scullion recalls the well- known Jesuit, Fr. Arrupe saying, “If there is hunger anywhere in the world, the Eucharist is incomplete everywhere in the world.”
3. Philadelphia has one of the highest rates of poverty of any large U.S. city, the Pew Charitable Trusts said in a 2019 report. But because of the work of Project HOME and other groups, Philadelphia has a low rate of those experiencing street homelessness. Philadelphia street counts, though hovering above 900 people in recent years, are the lowest of the nation’s ten largest cities, despite a staggeringly high poverty rate (26 percent, or approximately 400,000 Philadelphians).
4. “What we say at Project HOME is HOME: H, affordable housing; O, opportunities for employment; M, medical care; and E, education. The single most important thing to ending homelessness today is affordable housing. The simple most important thing to ending homelessness for the future is a quality education for every single child,” she said.
5. Scullion has earned other important allies and supporters in her ministry, including former President Bill Clinton and musician, humanitarian and New Jersey neighbor Jon Bon Jovi. Bon Jovi “described Mary to the press as a nun ‘who swears and spits,’ the good sister merely replied, ‘I do not spit.’ “
6. “Quite honestly, I think in addition to some of my key mentors, I would say that people who are experiencing homelessness were my greatest teachers,” she said.
That last statement certainly resonates with our ancestors in the Vincentian tradition, especially St. Vincent, and Blessed Rosalie Rendu, DC who mentored a young collegian whom we now know as Blessed Fredric Ozanam.
NCR Editor’s note: More than 1.6 billion people worldwide live in substandard housing. Of those, at least 150 million have no home at all. The series examines how homelessness and a lack of affordable housing affect teens and young adults, families, migrants, the elderly and those displaced by natural disasters and climate change in stories from Kenya, India, Vietnam, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, the United States and elsewhere.