North Central: Giving the Homeless a Second Chance at Life

Two residents sit outside the facility to get some fresh air.]

Standing at the corner of Broad and West Jefferson streets sits a massive brick building with rows of scalloped, white-trimmed windows and two fluted pillars that adorn the sides of a set of rusted red double doors. Little do people know that this building is not only historic but has been used in a variety of ways since its construction over 100 years ago.

Two residents sat outside the facility to get some fresh air.

Quinessa DeShields, a case manager of Project H.O.M.E.’s Kairos House and resident of North Central, said several people in the area do not realize the value of this building. She also did not know the use of the building before she started working for Project H.O.M.E.

DeShields said, “I used to walk past every morning going to work and wonder what this building was when I would see everybody sitting out here. I don’t think anyone in the community really knows what type of facility this is.”

In the year 1892, this building located at 1440 N. Broad St. was constructed as a Jewish school for the neighborhood. This structure provided education until the 1970s, but soon the school closed and the building was left abandoned. The building became a dilapidated property and was left vacant for approximately 20 years until Project H.O.M.E. stumbled upon it and saw the building’s great worth.

Once the Project H.O.M.E. staff rediscovered this structure in 1991, homeless people had already inhabited the unoccupied property and had squatted in the building. Once the Project H.O.M.E staff uncovered this, it seemed that this building was a natural fit for the Project H.O.M.E. organization. That day marked the birth of Project H.O.M.E.’s Kairos House.

Program manager for Kairos House, Carolyn Crouch, said this facility was a steal due to a specific program that was implemented at the time.

“Project H.O.M.E. took over the building when the city was offering that program where you could buy properties for a dollar and then Project H.O.M.E. did the renovations,” Crouch explained.

By 1993, Kairos House went through a miraculous transformation where the staff actually moved the residents to a location in West Philadelphia while the historic building underwent great changes. The building reopened in 1994 as a transitional housing facility for those with chronic homelessness and serious mental illnesses. Crouch said the Kairos House staff provides the support the residents need to start anew.

Kairos House works directly with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Mental Health, along with Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health, where they provide services for Kairos House through the Project Homeless Outreach Coordination Center. The outreach employees work to build strong relationships with the residents so they obtain proper treatment and housing services. Crouch said these organizations communicate with the Kairos House staff to recommend new residents.

“The referrals for Kairos House come from Philadelphia’s Office of Mental Health and they track them through this database that the city keeps on people who have histories of homelessness,” Crouch noted.

When it comes to the daily operations within Kairos House, Crouch said the facility is always busy with activity. Crouch said residents have their own daily routine just like anyone else. Several residents have volunteer stipends where they have the opportunity to work different jobs from receptionist to kitchen staff to outdoor maintenance. In addition, residents have the opportunity to participate in the Social Enterprise Job Training Initiatives program created by Project H.O.M.E.

The cafeteria workers served the residents lunch in the cafeteria.

“We have one social enterprise down at the library in the neighborhood and down at a thrift store called Our Daily Threads Thrift Store on Fairmount Avenue where they work competitively and they have the opportunity to work in the community as well,” Crouch said.

Since Kairos House functions around the clock, staffing is extremely important to keep all operations in check. Kairos House consists of 14 staff members along with a case management staff and a support staff that cover the weekend and overnight shifts.

Mary Sewell, a full-time support staff member at Kairos House, was once a resident at Project H.O.M.E.’s facility called Rowan Judson. Sewell wanted to assist others the same way the Project H.O.M.E. staff helped her.

“I am very grateful to be an employee of Project H.O.M.E. because they helped me overcome my addiction,” Sewell said. “My job here is to log in the book and check the security of the building and be here for the staff and I like doing that because I love the staff and residents unconditionally.”

Yvonne Wertz, a resident at Kairos House, said the staff members are like family in the way they attend to her needs.

Wertz said: “They really take care of me. They always give me my medication on time and they help me feel good even when I feel down. That’s why I love it here.”

Wertz has been a resident at Kairos House for over 15 years. She said she enjoys living at Kairos House because it reminds her of her previous home before she moved into the building.

“This is like a second home,” Wertz explained. “I like the quietness when I am up in my room and I get my own room and I can talk to the staff when I have a problem like I would talk to my parents.”

Gaining the funding needed to keep this facility operating efficiently is more than necessary. Kairos House receives funding from several organizations within Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health provides a generous amount of funding for Kairos House along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Crouch said the Philadelphia Housing Authority provides subsidies for Kairos House as well.

Crouch said Kairos House also receives grant money geared toward the residents’ specific requirements.

Resident Yvonne Wertz sat on her bed and watched her favorite morning television shows.

“There is this grant called the Shelter Plus Care Grant that provides money for those who have mental illnesses with homelessness histories and this is the grant that comes specifically from Department of Mental Health and Department of Behavioral Health,” Crouch said.

Crouch said Project H.O.M.E. owns practically all of their properties so this sustains the organization and allows them to gain more assets. This gives the organization the room to build more housing and create more programs.

In the end, the Kairos House staff strives to help the residents acclimate back to reality through reinforcing their relationships with them.

“It is all about building support systems because that’s the biggest barrier when the residents come in here,” Crouch explained. “They are completely isolated from society so it’s just building trusting relationships here and by the time they leave here they know what real supportive relationships look like so they can turn to those relationships if they hit any kind of roadblock.”

DeShields said the staff at Kairos House will continue contributing to society by giving the residents a second chance at life and presenting them with new beginnings.

“Our job is adapting the residents back to society,” DeShields said. “We are all about giving back.”

For more information on Project H.O.M.E.’s Kairos House and other Project H.O.M.E. facilities, please visit Project H.O.M.E.’s website.

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1 Comment

  1. Project H.O.M.E. bought that home for a dollar. It makes me wonder how much they spent fixing it up.

    I can see a huge need that Project H.O.M.E. and other similar agencies have for fund raising.


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