Project HOME
Podcast #113 — Aired December 5, 2016

None of us are home until all of us are home. That’s the powerful slogan at Project HOME, a non-profit with a mission to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. This week on BetterWorldians Radio, we’re speaking with Laura Weinbaum from Project HOME about the ways the non-profit is helping to change lives in the Philadelphia area and how listeners can help make the holidays brighter for those experiencing homelessness.

Sign Up for New Shows & Updates!

Laura Weinbaum
Vice President for Public Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, Project HOME

Laura is the Vice President for Public Affairs and Strategic Initiatives at Project HOME. She is responsible for focusing organizational efforts and communicating with stakeholders to implement a $300 million multi-year effort to end and prevent chronic street homelessness. Laura has a B.A. from Columbia University and an Masters in Governmental Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently on the Board of the Homeless Advocacy Project and an Adjunct Fellow at the Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives, among other community activities.

 

Episode Transcript

Gregory Hansell
Hi and welcome to Better Worldlians Radio. Better Worldlians Radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to broadcast, to uplift and inspire you to make, ah, the world a better place. Im Greg Hansel joined today by my co-host Mary Sue Hansel. Better Worldlians Radios brought to you by Better Worldlianss Foundation and is co-hosted by the the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook, called a Better World. It rewards players for doing good deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. Today over 40 million good deeds have been done by Better World by 4 million people in over 100 countries. This week on Better Worldlians Radio we welcome Lara Weinbaum from Project HOME a Philadelphia based nonprofit with a mission to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Lara is the vice-president for Public affairs and Strategic Initiatives at Project HOME. She is responsible for focusing organizational efforts and communicating with stakeholders to implement a 300 000 000 world effort to end and prevent chronic street homelessness. Lara has a B.A. from Columbia University and a masters in Governmental Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently on the board of the Homelessness Advocacy Project and a fellow on the Pen center for Public Health Initiatives among other community activities.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Lara. This is Mary Sue Hansel. Thanks for joining us today on Better Worldlians Radio.

Lara
Hi, Mary Sue and thanks for having me.

MarySue Hansell
Mhm. Project HOME was founded in 1989 by Sister Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon. Can you tell our listeners a bit about the early days of Project HOME?

Lara
Ah, sure, um, Project HOME, one story that I really love about Project HOME is really illustrative of how one small action can make a huge difference. Cause here we are in 2016 with an organization that now has, um, will soon have almost 1 000 units of supportive housing and really the way it got started was, um, Sister Sister Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon were just two individual citizens who, um, would often go into the city subway concourses or other places that people who are homeless would sleep or stay and the, um, people who are homeless would often say to Mary when they see her Youve got to meet Joan. and when they would see Joan they would say Youve got to meet Mary. and they set up an opportunity for Mary and Joan to meet each other, um, and what I love about that is you know theres Mary or Joan giving out sandwich or just talking to people about what they need and starting to form like the kernel of an idea and then heres these people that themselves are experiencing homelessness or saying What we really need...

MarySue Hansell
(laughter)

Lara
...is for you two to get together and for you to each bring the skills then you bring and well support you and well work with you. Thats really the genesis of Project HOME.

MarySue Hansell
Boy, thats a great story. So they didnt know each other and thats how they met, the homeless people introduced them and they founded the organization. Can you tell us a bit about what it looks like today, you mentioned a 1 000 units of housing?

Lara
Sure. So, um, I always talk about Project HOME as well first I should say the home in Project HOME stands for Housing, Opportunities for employment, Medical care and Education because I think that all of those the people need in order to, um, ah, build a stable life, um, thats things that many of us take for granted like a place to live, um, help for our medical needs when they arise, and good education, hopefully things that people in America can all take for granted. Um, I always talk about us as doing doing that through 4 ways of delivering our service. One is we coordinate street outreach to people living in the streets throughout the streets of Philadelphia so there are 5 agencies that provide that street outreach and we do it in collaboration with and funded by the city, but Project HOME is kind of the hub at the center of that spokes so, um, we do street outreach, we do a really broad range of housing, um, connected to various types of services for people who need them so everything from a place where people can come in right of the street, um, currently engaged in act of addiction or currently having various mental situations, all the way to stand-alone apartments where people who meet the criteria for admission can come and live, um, so its really a very very wide, um, range from dormitory style to full apartments and everything in between. The third thing we do is, ah, support a neighborhood north-central Philadelphia kind of just west of Temple University for people who are familiar with Philadelphia. There we have our Stephen Klein Wellness Center our federally qualified health center and Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs which is obviously as it sounds, um, education focused with a bent towards technology for kids and adults in that community. Weve also over time done a lot of, ah, community greening projects and home ownership development and things like that to really bring up that area, make sure that the folks in that neighborhood, which was at one time the greatest, um, contributor to homelessness in Philadelphia, really people in those neighborhoods have the opportunities they deserve. And the last thing we do is education advocacy and public policy work to make sure that some of the conditions that have created the situation of homelessness can really be ameliorated and we really take all of our work in partnership with the people that we serve so it really is, we talk a lot about the Projects community and the importance of the work that we do and that really does underpent everything

MarySue Hansell
Its such a wide range of services. Um, when you hear the name Project HOME you normally just think of the housing but Im so glad that our listeners can hear about all the wide scope of services that you do do. Now, housing is obviously a huge piece of the puzzle for solving homelessness. Can you tell a bit about what you do in depth about the, ah, you know, the home? How does housing work?

Lara
Sure. So, um one of the things that I think makes Project HOME sort of unique and this is increasing that I would say the trend of homelessness in America in general is that nothing that we, none of the housing that we provide has an artificial time limit on it, so, um, there are different programs that are funded at a federal level some of which say, you know, you can stay for no more than 24 months for instance or emergency shelter which has 1, 2 or 3 months kind of placement, um, so everything that Project HOME does is permanent because we feel that people, everybody takes their own path in their own time, theres no way to say You must achieve sobriety in X number of days. Its just different people have different needs and and thats really been a fundamental underpinning of our work and the dignity of every individual as an individual human, um, so thats thats to say that even within each of our residences look very different, we have recovery housing where people come in with a commitment to recovery but may still be using at the time that they enter or may relapse while they're there but well continue to work with them over and over and over again as long as they are willing to commit to the program and retain that commitment to sobriety. Um, then we have what we call safe havens which are places where people who have a diagnosis of serious mental illness might come and stay, um, and often people move on from both of those residences fairly quickly to something that is more appropriate to more, um, a stable living arrangement. Um, and then we have residences where people live, ah, in rooms, surrounding a common area, um, or we have as I said full apartments, efficiency is one bedrooms.

MarySue Hansell
Now, Lara, did they start out initially is it a free service and then as they proceed do they pay some amount or how does that work?

Lara
So mostly the federal government which provides some of the funding for our programs require that people pay 30% of their income, whatever their income is.

MarySue Hansell
So I see, aha.

Lara
So That gets people use to the idea of paying rent 30 % is considered to be sort of the universal standard of what people should pay out of their paychecks for housing so if people have only benefit income we will connect people to benefits, thats one of the services that were able to provide so people have only benefit income, they pay 30% of that, if theyve got employment income they - pay 30% of that...

MarySue Hansell
Oh, I see.

Lara
If they lost a job they still pay 30%, not too crazy fluctuations on what their budgets might look like.

MarySue Hansell
So what else does Project HOME do to help them improve their lives?

Lara
Oh Gosh (laughter)

MarySue Hansell
I know theres probably a big long answer there, but...

Lara
Right. I think the goal for all of us you know the goal for your listeners and everybody else is really transformation so...

MarySue Hansell
Mhm.

Lara
...Whatever that means to you, or me is the same thing as it might mean to somebody who comes in to live here, um, so well work with people to achieve whatever their goals are, sometimes is physical health stabilization, sometimes its mental or behavioral health stabilization, sometimes is family reunification sometimes its employment, like, whatever is the is the goal that somebody aspires to achieve for him or herself is what we will try and support him. The work with we do as I say work with connected people to the broadest array that theyre eligible for we also have some social enterprises, we have a resale boutique, ah, we have candle making and soap making workshops that residents and members of the community can participate in if theyre not quite sure what is their right next step in employment, ah, we have employment counselors who will work with people to connect with long-term jobs in the community. So really depending on what a persons needs and goals and aspirations are, were trying as hard as we can to work with each person to figure out whats the best path for him or her.

MarySue Hansell
Well it sounds like a wonderful service. Now how does the Project HOME outreach work? You mentioned you have 5 agencies. These people that actually go out on the street and, ah, to try to talk to the people who are homelessness?

Lara
Yup. Thats exactly right.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, aha.

Lara
What we find is that you know homelessness is often roused from long phase of gradual disconnection from people and from services and obviously from housing so the idea is to try to reconnect people and like were talking about before, sometimes reconnecting can just take a long time, it takes different approaches so we have 5 agencies Rise and House in Eastern Pennsylvania, Homercer which is part of Pennsylvania Hospital, Health Incorporated and sure each has a slightly different expertise, a slightly a different approach to their work and so we will look across the spectrum at what might work the best for a given person on the street. Well go out in hot weather with water, well go out in cold weather with socks or toiletries or different kinds of tools of engagement but with the idea that, um, a hope is that a person will be able to work with us to identify what are the services and housing that they need, that they are experiencing and then our outreach workers will be able to connect them.

MarySue Hansell
Mhm. You know, Lara, Im really interested in your answer to this next question. Weve heard it debated, ah, whether or no you should give homeless people in the street money when asked. What is your point of view on that? Very curious about that.

Lara
Yup, thats a great question and certainly one we get all the time.

MarySue Hansell
Mhm.

Lara
The first thing Ill say is that typically people who pen-handle are not homeless because in general specially the sort of routine center city kind of pen-handling that we all experience. People are able to collect enough money through that activity that they are able to rent a room or an apartment somewhere or contribute to a households income so generally theres, ah, at least a little bit of a line between panhandling and homelessness. What we generally advise is, um, that if people are feeling charitably inclined we carry, we have in our office what we call where-to-turn and we print them from our website of theyre philadelphian and we ask that people give out where-to-turns or try and establish a relationship, certainly treat people with respect, certainly listeners can offer people to come in to Project HOME in our lobby we have our outreach workers as well as, you know, out on the street so there are definitely alternatives that we feel are more productive than just giving somebody cash on the street.

MarySue Hansell
What about giving them food? Is that something that, ah

Lara
Food is often a really good engagement strategy, right? Like, what you do with your family often. Thats thats building your internal relationships, you sit down around a meal, so food can often be a really good engagement tool. Its a way to just, you know, maybe theres a smile that happens as part of that interaction, or, um, kind of another way of helping somebody just recognize the humanity in somebody so there is certainly, people should do whatever obviously people should engage with other humans in whatever way they feel comfortable with. We would be, it would be inappropriate of us to give guidance necessarily on that but if the question is what do we think is the most successful for helping people exit homelessness I think youre right, that the connection of sharing food is an important connection, the connection of offering somebody connection to resources is important, we have a 24-hour homeless outreach hotline members of the public can call or people who are experiencing homelessness themselves can call to try and connect to good resource

Gregory Hansell
Well talk more about Project HOME in just a moment. Right now Id like to take a brief break and tell our listeners a bit about our game on Facebook called a Better World. A Better World encourages habits of goodness, positive mindsets and giving, the social causes to make a positive difference in the world. Players do things like express gratitude, share acts of kindness, send get-well notes to world sick children and more. You can find out more at abetterworld.com. So now lets get back to our conversation with Laura Waindaum about Project HOME, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit with a mission to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. So Lara I saw you have some great special programs for teens, I saw technology labs, college prep summer camp. Can you tell us about some of those?

Lara
Sure. So those mostly take place through our Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs, you just basically summarized it beautifully. We have afterschool programs that teens can participate in...

Gregory Hansell
Mhm

Lara
...and those also run at time, there are digital and visual arts opportunities, music opportunities, um, homework support,a kind of you name it academics as well as extracurriculars that are offered at Honickman Learning Center which is on Jetson street, again just west of Temple for folks who are coming from a Philadelphia standpoint. That program does also try and connect to teens to summer entrepreneurship activities or summer employment because thats been proven to be one thing to the help kids stay in school and also achieve successful outcomes after school is over, we also connect teens to our college access program which helps them identify a strategy for getting to and staying in a college...

Gregory Hansell
Mm.

Lara
...that looks appropriate for them, and some small amounts of scholarships and stipends to help support them financially they should need it.

Gregory Hansell
Thats great, you see the kids really engage in the programs?

Lara
Absolutely, um. Gosh, I dont actually know at the top of my head the number of kids who weve seen graduate from college but anecdotally I can tell we have at least 2 kids that I know of who came through that program over the last Ill say 10 years, um, interned within Project HOME through their time either living here or living in the North Philly community, then went on to college and I can think of one now whos getting her masters in Business Administration, I can think of one whos getting her masters in social work, I can think of one who is employed here, um, so theres definitely really amazing success stories. I think were on track to have about a 100 kids either in or...

Gregory Hansell
Wow.

Lara
...completing college in the last few years.

Gregory Hansell
Good for you. Thats excellent. So what do you believe is the most common misconception that people have about homelessness?

Lara
Hm. I think, I think the probably, the single most common misconception is that people who are experiencing homeless are in any way different from any of the rest of us.

Gregory Hansell
Hm.

Lara
I often also like to talk about homelessness as, ah, a category that doesnt really exist right? Like we dont talk about people who are housed or people who are mortgage holders or you know, its just that the category of homelessness is really something that people tend to fall into when all of the other systems that are designed to support people fall apart so it might be, um, in some cases it might be the foster care system, in some cases it might be the criminal justice system, in some cases it might be the physical or behavioral house care systems but all of these are designed to be apart of a safety net but should catch people before they fall into homelessness, ah, and often in the homelessness is what results in other systems cant meet a persons needs.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, yeah you know I think unfortunately people have this misconception that if someone is homeless they havent expended any effort, theyre lazy, theyre not a hard worker, you know they have some sort of, they made some bad decisions and maybe thats true, but I think in many cases just people that because of bad luck, because theyve fallen through the cracks, that that theyve fallen through the holes in the system and in society and they find themselves in difficult situation.

Lara
I think thats right and I think the other thing to keep n mind, you know Philadelphia has almost 13% deep poverty rate which means there are about 200 000 people living in households where the income is 12 000 dollars a year or less.

Gregory Hansell
Wow.

Lara
So I dont know if you can imagine living on 12 000 dollars a year. Its something I think about a lot very heavily but the fact that those folks are living on 12 000 dollars a year are not entering a homeless system is a tribute to their incredible resourcefulness and wherewithal and so you do have to think about just as a percentage of people living in poverty who dont have the resources to again connect back to those mainstream systems. Um, some number will just experience homelessness over the course of the yearjust out of, you know, bad luck.

Gregory Hansell
Sure. Now thats a great point. So, the holidays are here. Um, I know we want to talk a bit about some of the special needs that Project HOME has during these seasons. To talk about that I want to bring in Annette Jeffrey the V.P. of development and communication at private, ah, Project Home. So can you tell us what are some of the special projects you have during the holidays at Project HOME?

Annette
Well its a wonderful time to get involved, um, as you can imagine, for a lot of folks in our community the holidays have some memories of isolation and, um, some loneliness and thats one of the great things about being part of Project HOME community, is being able to be together.

Gregory Hansell
Mhm.

Annette
So, um, there are a number of ways that people can get involved, um, our website is a great resource for all this information theres sort of how to get involved section, there are opportunities, um, specifically during the holidays. We try to, um, get together gifts for our the residents to make the holidays...

Gregory Hansell
Mhm.

Annette
...extra special and what we find um what residents love the most are our gift cards, they can go out and purchase something that they need, um, or something fun.

Gregory Hansell
Mhm.

Annette
So we collect 30 dollar gift cards and this is something great to do in an office situation to do a little holiday gift card drive...

Gregory Hansell
Mhm.

Annette
...um, but we do 30 dollar gift cards to CBS, Walmart, Target or Old maybe and were trying to gather those by December 19th.

Gregory Hansell
Thats great.

Annette
Another nice thing to do, yeah, would be to, ah, prepare, ah, a holiday treat or a meal and we can arrange with our volunteer coordinator, um, whose information is on our website, to deliver the meal, serve the meal possibly, um, people could throw a little party in one of our residences. Um another thing that is great is to do - a holiday drive for other things besides gift cards are great, we also always need, um, especially during the winter months hats and gloves, socks, um, scarves, new blankets, pillows, sheets, towels those kinds of things.

Gregory Hansell
Sure.

Annette
We love to have a welcome kit available for someone theyre moving in, so new new blankets and sheets are are a great thing. Um, another cool thing during the holidays is, this is year- round but...

Gregory Hansell
Mhm.

Annette
...theres some special products, produced by our residents. I believe Lara mentioned that earlier. We have our homemade line, candles and other products, cards and all of that is available on our website as well and we just started a store on so those products can be purchased to give out as gifts which is a great support.

Gregory Hansell
Those are great projects for the holidays. If folks wanted to...

Annette
Yeah.

Gregory Hansell
...help out with gift cards or with a preparing a meal, um, should they get in touch with you through the website, whats the best way to help with those projects?

Annette
Yeah, the very best way is our website. Elle Gordon is our volunteer coordinator and all of her contact information is right there on the website

Gregory Hansell
Perfect, thank you so much for this.

Annette
Thank you so much.

Gregory Hansell
Lara, tell our listeners how they can help support Project HOME?

Lara
So I think there is, but we always say is: donate, advocate and volunteer, right so, um, clearly donations are a really big part of our existence, less than half of our revenue comes from any sort of government source so its donors of all sizes are incredibly incredibly crucial to our work. Volunteer. I think Annette just covered but if people go to our website theres a section called How to help?and youll find our volunteer link right there. During the holiday time it might be running a holiday drive or providing a holiday meal or gift cards or other things like that, um, additionally obviously shopping at our, um, online store and our businesses, um. And then the last is advocate. And that is something that we do all the time as a really core component of Project HOMEs mission when you go to our website most often there will be some sort of an online action that people can take. Sometimes theyre limited to Philadelphia voters but they very often are much more broad. Well probably run, were running one right now that is just sort of calling on a federal government as this new administration takes shape that is thinking about mercy and justice and how we can create public policies that reflect the, uh, values of kindness and generosity that hopefully, uh, many Americans share.

Gregory Hansell
Mhm.

Lara
So donate, advocate and volunteer I think the biggest ways that people can help.

Gregory Hansell
Thats great. So I was really struck by your powerful slogan which was:None of us are home until all of us are home. What does that mean to you and why do you believe thats true?

Lara
Hm, um, I think a lot of time here at Project HOME we talk about the power of transformation relationships and, um,...

Gregory Hansell
Mm.

Lara
...theres, ah, an original artist who, we use his quote a lot it says: If youve come here to help me, youre wasting your time but if you come because your deliberation is bound up as mine let us work together and I think thats kind of a longer way of true thing that none of us are home until all of us are home, that we really do believe in the power and and crucial importance of community...

Gregory Hansell
Mhm.

Lara
...and that if youre going to be in a community that means when one part is hurting the whole thing is hurting and thats why None of us are home until all of us are home has been a really important vision statement for us.

Gregory Hansell
Definitely. So I have one last question for you. Its a question I ask almost every week to all our guests in this case: How do you believe Project HOME is helping to make the world a better place?

Lara
Hm, um Ive been here a long time and I often think to use stories when I think about things like that. So there was a woman who I used to see before I worked here, I would see her on the bus almost every day on my way to work. And she was, um, she was miserable you could see from the way she carried herself how unhappy she was, she would wear ripped clothing often have no shoes, um, and as I came here to work at Project HOME later I got to know this person who was engaging with outreach and then eventually she moved into the building where I work, she would cook the most amazing meals and I would always have the wonderful smell of her cooking in my hallway and ultimately, actually one day I ran into her not even knowing where had she gone over this time. I ran into her she was behind the cash register at the right aid and she was just telling me how happy she is that now she has her own apartment and she was living with her boyfriend and she has this great job and it was so amazing to see the this transformation from and also my own transformation in the same time of terms of, you know, working really in the technology field into working here at Project HOME. That stories like those are definitely what sort of keep coming back and what proved to me how were helping to make the world a better place.

Gregory Hansell
You can learn more about Project HOME by going to projecthome.work. Lara, thank you for everything you do at Project HOME and joining us today at Better Worldlians Radio.

Lara
Thank you so much for having us, we really appreciate the opportunity.

Gregory Hansell
Its our pleasure. Better Worldlians Radio is brought to you by Better Worldlians Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit whose mission is to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone. We believe its as important to plant flowers as it is to pull weeds. We focus on positive thinking, positive values and positive actions. In short, our vision is to bring out the better worldian in everybody so we can all make it a better world. But we cant do it without your help. Donations support our Better Worldlians Radio podcast as well as go to our developing new features like articles, videos, blogs and more. Be at betterworldlians.com to be apart of this important mission and until next time please be a better worldian. (music)