Homelessness is an epidemic, and it’s one we see every day. In Philadelphia, there are approximately 5,700 people experiencing homelessness, including about 950 who are unsheltered, according to the city’s Office of Homeless Services.
While that number isn’t the highest in the country, it’s a lot of people, and we should be using the rich resources we’ve been given to help the thousands of individuals experiencing homelessness in our city.
As the largest university in the city and with a mission statement about promoting service and engagement throughout Philadelphia, Temple should become more involved in the city’s homelessness issue, and has the resources to do so. Students can encourage the university to do more, whether it be through developing lasting solutions or through facilitating shared public spaces on campus to provide food to those in need.
The university has already done a considerable amount to help students and residents experiencing homelessness, but these programs should be expanded to a larger scale.
Swipes for Philadelphia, for example, is a Temple organization that redistributes unused meal swipes to provide nutritious meals to students experiencing food insecurity and people experiencing homelessness. The organization is funded mainly through students’ unused meal swipes and through contributions from students and donors.
“Educating fellow students about homelessness, food insecurity and hunger problems in Philadelphia, empowering students to develop leadership skills and hosting food drives and other events” is what Swipes for Philadelphia stands for, said the founder, AaronRey Ebreo, senior biology major.
“Food, water and shelter are basic human needs, and it’s a privilege to not have to worry about where your next meal is going to come from, or where you’re going to sleep,” said Taylor Zahairagunn, a senior psychology major and a member of Swipes for Philadelphia.
What Temple has already done is amazing, but with our university’s resources, drive and student body, there is so much more we can do. We can invest in finding long-term solutions to homelessness as well as offering food to those in need.
Temple could participate in the Shared Public Spaces Program, a coalition of businesses that work to find lasting solutions to homelessness in Philadelphia, while providing quality food for individuals experiencing homelessness at places throughout the city.
There are 21 businesses involved in this program, including Wawa, SEPTA, Reading Terminal Market and the Mural Arts Program, but not a single university, college or school.
Temple could be the first educational institution in Philadelphia to participate in this program, and campus locations like Columbia Plaza—the skate park at Broad Street and Cecil B Moore Ave—could easily double as a shared public space to distribute food to those in need.
Temple could absolutely make larger strides towards housing security that helps individuals experiencing homelessness, and the administration could learn from existing organizations and their success.
Javier Rivera is the director of Community Improvement Projects and operations at Ready, Willing & Able Philadelphia (RWA), an organization that offers same-day pay programs to individuals in need. He knows how much a program like this could benefit individuals in the community because of how his own life was changed.
Rivera experienced homelessness in 1997, but as a result of RWA’s program of offering paid opportunities to participants, that’s no longer the case.
“Fast forward 22 years later, here in Philly, I’m a homeowner in a new development in the Temple University area,” Rivera said.
Shared Public Spaces, as well, similarly offers a paid day of work with the Mural Arts organization, and it’s something that Temple could easily invest in.
Our university has made improvements in how we respond to and tackle homelessness, but with our vast institutional resources, it’s clear we could do so much more.
When homelessness is reduced, our community becomes more whole, but more importantly, we are giving people a second chance.