Philadelphia’s new day center for the homeless opens its doors Wednesday , but it’ll be opening in an unusual location — underground.
In a partnership with SEPTA and Project HOME, the new Hub for Hope facility will be in the concourse below Center City’s Suburban Station. The facility, formerly a transit police headquarters, covers 11,000 square feet — 10 times the size of the current Hub of Hope, which has been operating during the winter out of a storefront, just a few blocks away.
The new center will not offer a place to sleep, but will provide coffee, showers and a place to do laundry from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. On weekends, it will serve free meals. The expansion will also allow for a health clinic, medical professionals and behavioral health specialists to be on site, as well as certified peer specialists who can help people apply for jobs and housing.
Over the course of the past six winters, Hub of Hope has hosted an estimated 200 people a day. Project HOME anticipates the new facility will serve twice that many.
“Instead of building fences and criminalizing homelessness, SEPTA and the city decided to repurpose a space to serve the men and women that are homeless,” said Sister Mary Scullion, founder and president of Project HOME.
During ceremonies a day before the official opening, Mayor Jim Kenney echoed that commitment to approach homeless not as a law enforcement issue.
“We are not going to arrest people for being homeless,” he said, stressing that the new space “gives our homeless outreach workers and the police a place to actually bring people instead of just scooting them along.”
About 15,000 people stay in Philadelphia shelters each year. Both Kenney and Project HOME leaders stressed that a day center was only one step in combating homelessness.
“We still need more affordable homes and jobs,” said Kenney.
Scullion agreed. “That is incredibly daunting right now, when our federal government is proposing drastic cuts to all those programs,” she said.
In addition to providing staff to help people apply for housing and jobs, the center will offer a health clinic. Monica Medina McCurdy, vice president of health care with Project HOME, said she expects to see a lot of people with chronic illnesses at the new facility. They will have a foot bath and a shampoo sink in anticipation of needs specific to people living without shelter, McCurdy said.
“It’s institutionalized violence, that’s what poverty and homelessness is,” said Scullion, stressing that trauma-informed care and behavioral health care are essential to bringing people out of poverty. Project HOME staff also stressed that mental health issues can keep people from wanting to visit the center in the first place, and that outreach teams will still be active throughout the city.
McCurdy also noted that the clinic will conduct psychiatric exams, as certain supportive housing programs often prioritize people with behavioral or mental health diagnoses for their housing.
The $1.4 million construction costs were shared between the city and SEPTA. Additional funding — for furnishings such as the washers and dryers — came from private philanthropists including the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.
Jon Bon Jovi, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, expressed gratitude to fellow donors John and Leigh Middleton.
“We both realized years ago, [this issue] didn’t need a scientist to find a cure,” said Bon Jovi. “It was going to take hard-earned dollars, sweat equity and the expertise of people like Sister Mary.”
Bon Jovi’s foundation has supported various affordable housing and anti-homelessness efforts throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey.