Shelter of Hope

Fifteen years ago, the vast majority of homeless persons were men. Today, however, women make up more than one-third of that population, according to a National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty report.

In an attempt to remedy this crisis, the former Wanamaker Junior High School, located at 1111 Cecil B. Moore Ave., has been housing homeless women and their children since Jan.16.

Conducted by Acts Christian Transitional Services, a non-profit organization committed to community involvement and aiding families in need, the school is currently home to roughly 30 homeless women and 70 youths. But the school is only a transitional location for the shelter.

“We set up here after our previous shelter, on 28th and Master [Streets], was destroyed in a fire,” said Tanisha Griffin, an intake worker for the shelter.

“Our Wanamaker lease will run out in January of 2007. By then, hopefully our new facility will be built.”

Griffin added that while a few women stay for only a night in emergency situations, most of the displaced women remain for 30 days or more. ACTS provides services to get them back on their feet ranging from GED test packets and parenting classes to finding the women future housing, as well as substance abuse recovery programs.

In addition to these specific programs, ACTS also offers residents’ children a much needed outlet to play. “All but three of the women housed at Wanamaker have children,” Griffin said. “One of our main goals is to provide adequate space for them to learn and play outside their rooms. We have established what we call ‘Bright Spaces’ and thanks to individuals’ donations, we have a good collection
of books and toys for the kids to enjoy.”

The recent spike in the number of homeless women can be blamed on a number of factors: domestic violence, eviction from current residences, fires and being released from jail can all leave women without a place to live. One of the primary causes, said Rogelio Soto, the day center coordinator for the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness, among women is substance abuse.

Soto explained that “Homeless women are not all individuals with drug problems, but addicts make up the majority – probably 60 percent to 70 percent.”

“I would say that 50 percent of the women we house have substance abuse issues,” Griffin added. “There are ways to get out of the cycle of drug addiction,” Soto explained. “I recommend a long-term program, six months or more, to distance individuals from their destructive way of life.

Last fall, city officials announced a 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness in Philadelphia after meeting with advocate groups like Soto’s committee and ACTS.

Ten million dollars in city, state and federal funds have already been set aside to implement the plan. In addition, the Philadelphia emergency services office, which aids homeless persons, also has a $64 million annual budget. But Soto said he disagreed with an approach that puts such emphasis on shelters, particularly when the city itself runs 43.

“Shelters are not enough,” Soto said. “Homeless individuals cannot stay there forever and they remain around the same bad influences as on the streets. They [shelters] are good temporary solutions, but instead of dumping millions [of dollars] into them, we must focus more on the causes and long-term solutions of the problem.”

“It’s really rewarding to see the women make it out,” Griffin said.

“Working with them is truly fulfilling.”

Cody Glenn can be reached at

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