Volunteers refresh Philly homes languishing in shadow of opioid epidemic

Powered by scores of volunteers, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia does repairs for low-income seniors and veterans four times a year. Lately, it's been at work in Kensington.

For years, Gloria Nobles’ Kensington rowhome was a hub for family get-togethers.

Sunday dinners. Cookouts. Holidays.

Recently, though, she has cut back on hosting.

“I had so many problems in here,” said Nobles. Problems she couldn’t afford to fix.

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Enter Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, a program that remodels houses for low-income seniors and veterans four times a year.

Starting Friday, more than a hundred volunteers in orange T-shirts descended on East Somerset to give $15,000 home makeovers to 11 residents, including Nobles.

By Saturday afternoon, she’ll have new floors, a new bathroom and a fresh paint job.

A place she can be proud of owning too. She plans on hosting Thanksgiving next month – good news for her family because they say she’s best in the kitchen.

“If I don’t cook, they usually go out or go to a friend’s house,” said Nobles.

Counting on a ripple effect

Not far from Nobles’ door is the center of the city’s opioid epidemic.

Volunteers say the renovations on Somerset are a small way of offsetting the daily and deadly reminders of that crisis. If Nobles and other program beneficiaries take pride in their newly remodeled homes, they argue, perhaps other neighbors will take note and do the same — and so on.

Chief Inspector Melvin Singleton, a board member at Rebuilding Together and one of several Philadelphia and SEPTA police officers pitching in on Somerset, said the renovations are also about sending a message to residents: police officers care.

“One of the main victims of the opioid crisis, which is rampant in this particular area, is the folks who are not involved, but who live here,” said Singleton on the second floor of Nobles’ home. “They need help, and we cannot forget them.”

Singleton said the program also reminds officers that their job is to bolster the community by fighting crime and performing good deeds.

“Basically, to make life better for these folks out here,” he said.

Nobles’ neighbors say it won’t be easy.

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