ABOVE PHOTO: Nurturing Fathers Program occurr at both Outley and Station Houses and are administered by Turning Points for Children. (Photo courtesy: SELF, Inc)
By Raymond Jones
The faces of the homeless in Philadelphia have many profiles.
One is of the mumbling, disheveled, rambling elderly man at the bus stop we see on our way to work. Another is the multi-layered, clothed screaming woman we hear at the entrance of the subway. Those are the more familiar profiles of the homeless — but there are many others. They are the ones we rarely see; the couch surfer, the groups of people living 10 to 12 people in a house, the ‘aged-out’ foster care resident, or the young person.
Increasingly, the homeless population is a blend of young adults and working families whose life’s safety net has been shattered through chronic unemployment, unforeseen illness and traumatic experiences, which can easily turn into housing insecurity and ultimately homelessness, says Michael Hinson, CEO of Strengthening and Empowering Lives and Future, Inc. (SELF, INC).
“Most of the homeless people that I see at our shelters are coming directly from some family members’ home,” he said. Hinson also hopes to dispel the myth that the homeless are not real people with real families who are unconnected to family.
SELF, INC. is a non-profit organization that has provided behavior case management and social services to Philadelphians for over 30 years. In addition, SELF, INC. has strengthened its efforts to provide emergency housing services for single adult men and women as they work with each participant to find permanent housing solutions. The organization is a massive operation with eight centers that serve over 9,000 people a year providing over 12,000 meals and hundreds of case management services while outreaching to dozens of the mentally challenged throughout the city.
According to Hinson, his clients have full lives. He says that there are lot of people who are homeless that are employed, and that while SELF, INC. clients have goals and aspirations, they are unable to afford housing. “There are people who live here with us who work, “ Hinson said. “Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of the country’s 10 largest cities. You add the deep poverty rate affecting over 186,000 people, and you are going to have a steady population that can’t afford a decent place to live.”
He approaches his work with the management style of a CEO and the common touch and knowledge of a case manager with contacts and network of a public health policy wonk.
For every person SELF, INC. and other shelters help daily to escape the stigma and insecurity of being homeless, there are nearly 500 Philadelphians entering the shelter system daily, Hinson explained. SELF, INC.’s approach to the work is a holistic mental health/social service empowerment approach. This is different from the warehousing approach to providing services to the homeless in that it provides clients with an individual life plan focused on self-sufficiency.
“Most of the homeless people in the city you never really see because they are here with us,” he said.
Hinson’s team of professionals provide a holistic development approach to care for residents providing classes on housing upkeep, money management and how to obtain documents most people take for granted, for example a birth certificate for ID purposes.
“The opioid crisis and youth being put [on] the streets by family due to their sexual orientation adds an additional stress to the resources that we are currently using to serve this very fragile community,” said Rhashidah Perry, SELF, INC. public policy and communications director.
Hinson says the future of the profession should be focused on all stakeholders involved in the field of providing services to the homeless to connect the dots through collaboration and providing a more holistic delivery service approach through the multi-faceted city services providers and agencies.