Hundreds gathered at a candlelight vigil Thursday night to remember more than 250 people who died this year who were living on the streets or formerly homeless.
Though she’s off the streets now, 20-year-old Tori Stoddart says she inherited homelessness — and then passed it on to her daughter as an infant.
“I’ve been homeless, my mom, she’s been homeless, and my grandma she’s been homeless. It’s just something that runs in my family. I don’t want it to but that’s the system that we live in,” she said.
Twenty-two-year-old Jonathan Cooper says homelessness is a generational problem in his family too. After spending nearly his entire life in foster care, for him, unstable housing has been the norm.
“I can’t count, but I would say I’ve been in over 100 homes since I was two. I don’t know my mom, my dad, I only got my little brother — we’re both homeless,” said Cooper who came to the vigil straight from a job interview where he was hired on the spot.
He’s expecting his first child in May and says his focus is to provide for his new family. “It’s going to be hard but I keep telling myself everyday I’m going to do the best for my child, so he can have a way better life than mine,” he said.
Of the 10 largest cities in the U.S., Philly has the lowest homelessness rate. But it’s also the poorest. And, compared to three years ago, the event memorialized nearly double the number of homeless people. Project HOME attributes the increase to the city’s worsening opioid crisis, compounded by the city’s lack of affordable housing and access to healthcare.
Sister Mary Scullion, director of Project HOME, says this year she is most concerned about the future of the federal safety net.
“For the bottom rung of the economic ladder here in the city of Philadelphia with a 26 percent poverty rate, these are desperate times,“ said Scullion.
She says the long-term effects on welfare programs under the recently passed tax bill are especially worrying to her. “They’re going to have to look for ways of balancing the budget and what we’re so scared of is that they’ll balance this trillion and a half dollar deficit over the backs of the poor and low income working people,” she said.