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William Davenport is going to turn 50 this year. He smilingly recounts how he spent his birthday last year with a big cake, ice cream and a cookout. He hopes to have the same party again this year when his birthday rolls around in July.
Davenport is also homeless. He is one of the 40 or so residents of Kailo Haven Shelter, a men’s shelter in Tioga that provides meals and a bed to those who are picked up from the streets.
Kailo is nestled beside another shelter, Motivations and sits across from a row of colonial houses on 21st and Tioga streets. This shelter not only provides a sanctuary for men to come off the streets but also tries to eventually find permanent housing for them.
Davenport, for example, has been waiting to be placed in permanent housing for about two years now.
“My case worker is looking for a place for me to stay, another place better than this, it is an apartment or something,” said Davenport.
According to Project H.O.M.E, a non-profit organization that provides housing and services to chronically homeless men and women in Philadelphia, there are about 4,000 homeless people in Philadelphia on any given day.
The Director of Kailo Haven, James McPhail, feels homelessness is one of many adverse consequences of the dominance in American society for corporate-profits that elected officials prioritize higher than serving the needs of people.
“Homelessness is not by chance it’s by design,” McPhail said. “The corporate profit taking results in high unemployment and high levels of problems with education and health. These problems produce Third World conditions right here in America which is a rich nation.”
The soft spoken and mild mannered William Davenport was originally from West Philadelphia. He doesn’t give too many details about how he became homeless only revealing that he has been on the street for some time before being picked up by the intake van that drives around West Philadelphia.
“There is an intake van on 55th and Pine, it drives around in the area of West Philly and they ask you do you need a home, a place to stay,” said Davenport.
Those men that come to the shelter often arrive with drug or alcohol abuse and their arrival marks the beginning of the tough process towards change and recovery. Denita Washington has been a resident nurse at Kailo Haven Shelter for the past six years and has seen many homeless men walk in and out of the shelter.
“The most memorable thing is to watch a person’s progress. Someone who has been homeless for several years, sleeping on the subway and then coming through the door with only the clothing they have on their back. They are reluctant to even go upstairs and sleep in the bed and then after six months to a year they are now sleeping in the bed, they are now taking medication, they have an income, they are excited to go shopping with their ICM, that’s just so memorable and everybody’s story is not that way because some don’t stay,” said Washington.
The shelter places an emphasis on allowing the residents to make their own choices, allowing residents to move freely in and out of the shelter. They even have a resident’s council, which is made up mostly of residents, and hold monthly meeting to bring up issues surrounding living in the shelter.
The shelter is divided into two with the first floor being the kitchen, dining room and living room. Upstairs, the shelter is divided into four dormitories that accommodate about six to eight people each. Residents are told to be down for breakfast at 9 a.m. and are only allowed back up to their beds at 6.30 p.m. In between residents keep themselves active or try to find work.
Fast friendships are formed in the dormitories. Davenport only complains about who listens to what on the radio at night before going to bed.
For many of the residents at the shelter, they people they meet there are the only ones they have left in the world.
Davenport says that he has two sisters that live on Diamond Street but he hasn’t seen them in a while. When asked why he didn’t go and stay with them he replied that they have a house of their own and it would be a bother.
“The first time they heard I was here they called on the phone and they came to see how I was doing and that was it,” said Davenport.
Abandoned and left to fend for themselves on the street, many of the homeless develop a variety of mental illnesses from drug and alcohol abuse making the road to recovery even tougher. But for those like Davenport who’s only vice now is the occasional cigarette, the dream is to still leave the shelter to find a place to call their own.
“I go back to West Philly if I could but I don’t know if anybody got any paper work for West Philly. I get along with everybody that was over there,” said Davenport.
Homes not shelters will end homelessness and Kailo Haven Shelter plans to do just that making it their mission to not only welcome anyone who arrives on their doorstep but to also help them begin their journey on their way back out.