Interfaith Hospitality Network sees a place for itself in Northeast Philadelphia

The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Philadelphia is based in the Northwest, but Executive Director Rachel Falkove hopes it can soon better meet the needs of the growing number of Northeast Philadelphians seeking its services.

Falkove was at Tuesday’s Lawncrest Community Association to explain the network. She was invited by Rev. Ben Krey of Lawncrest’s Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.

“We are not a shelter,” Falkove said. “We are a program.” But shelter is one of the services the network provides to its members. In short, congregations join together to provide a mobile network of shelter, meals and other social services to families in need. The families spend short periods of time in each congregation as they work toward getting back on their feet.

Like “Barbara,” for example. Before introducing Falkove, Krey used a congregation member as an example of someone who could be helped through the network – a mother working hard to raise her children who suddenly gets laid off and has to move in with her young adult son in New York.

Interfaith Hospitality Network could have helped keep Barbara in the Northeast, Krey and Falkove explained. She’d have been helped by congregations opening their doors and volunteers providing meals until Barbara could land a new job and move on.

It might be easier for the many Barbaras of the Northeast by the summer. That’s when Falkove hopes the network can be established in the Northeast.

“We’re looking for space,” Falkove explained. “We’re looking for [lay] people who might want to form a Northeast community.”

She said she knows she’ll need to speak with community leaders to explain the network’s proceeding, and to help people understand she isn’t trying to bring a homeless shelter to the Northeast. And she hopes the network’s numbers will inspire those helping set up a community in the Northeast.

Most people who’ve come through the network go on to get living wage jobs, Falkove said. One-third go to college, seven in the last 10 years have bought homes and 92 percent have not re-experienced homelessness.

The Interfaith Hospitality Network isn’t a new concept. It came to Philadelphia in 1991, but has been operating in other parts of the country for nearly 30 years. The Northwest Philadelphia base was the first to address urban homelessness, as the network was first started to help those experiencing homelessness in rural and suburban areas.

Urban or not, Falkove knows families who need transitional assistance need it close by. As the network looks to build its community in the Northeast, easy access to public transit will be considered. But not having to go all the way to the Northwest for assistance will in itself be a positive change for Northeast members.

Having to go to the Northwest from the Northeast, Falkove explained, “is like being in a foreign country.”

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