Germantown: Organization Offers Future for Addicts, Homeless]

In The State of Homelessness in America 2012, The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that in Philadelphia, Pa. and surrounding metropolitan areas, there are more than 11,000 homeless living on the streets and in shelters. Dignity Housing is a nonprofit organization staffing 17 employees located in the Germantown neighborhood that helps homeless Philadelphia residents receive affordable housing and live stable lives.

Marion Smith, a resident at Dignity Housing.
Marion Smith, a resident at Dignity Housing.

Created by homeless people in Philadelphia during the late 1980s, Dignity Housing (Dignity) is made up of more than 60 different apartments that are for participants to live in while in the program. These housing units are provided by the Philadelphia Housing Authority through rental income and give participants the opportunity to become residents. There are different branches of Dignity and the status of the people in need determines which branch they become a resident of.

Dignity Housing (the initial branch) is for families and provides case-workers that assist residents with receiving permanent homes, which last for two years. Dignity II aids single-mother residents in escaping domestic abuse and substance abuse and lasts up to two years. Dignity III focuses on ensuring that families are financially stable through assistance with planning budgets.

All of the different branches of Dignity provide residents with programs to help them back into mainstream society. These programs range from HIV/AIDS treatment and addiction rehabilitation to assistance with physical disabilities and mental illness. In partnership with these programs, some outside organizations are used for further assistance. The program joined forces with The Family Services Providers Network (FSPN) and The Advocacy Coalition for Homeless Families (ACHF) to promote effective support and create resources for homeless families.

“We offer two-year transitional housing and longer term housing up to five years. We also provide comprehensive supportive services including individualized case management. We have an after-school program at one of our sites, we organize workshops and activities for residents and we recently opened a computer lab for residents and the community to utilize,” said Vanessa Tercero, director of development for Dignity Housing.

The organization previously tried to implement an additional program called Future Homes. This program would have helped residents with home ownership and required residents to be sober, go through a financial screening process, find employment and maintain a clean criminal record. Future Homes was not able to be sustained within Dignity. “We had to put the program on hold due to limited funding and not having enough participants who qualify for home-ownership. We may consider it again sometime in the future,” Tercero said.

Dignity is funded through government programs, individual contributions and grants from private foundations. “The most challenging aspect Dignity faces is limited funding. In today’s economic environment we are challenged with doing more with less. We have experienced many cuts in our government funding over the years and we work hard to fund-raise,” Tercero said.

Smith demonstrated a cooking lesson in his kitchen.

Originally known as the Committee for Dignity and Fairness for the Homeless Housing Development, Inc., Dignity has serviced more than 2,000 families in the Philadelphia area. Marion Smith, a former soldier in the United States Military and resident in Dignity, has fought addiction and is now on his way to opening his own catering business. “These people have just opened their arms. Whatever I need to further myself in my treatment… they work with me,” Smith said. He has also had the opportunity to achieve smaller goals like obtaining a driver’s license and volunteering with local organizations.

“Marion truly represents what Dignity is all about. He came into the program facing many challenges including homelessness, but he is now on his way to a stable life. He has taken advantage of all the support the program offers and utilized them to stabilize his life. He is on the path to success,” Tercero said.

Tercero started working at Dignity as a part-time grant writer and Development Assistant before she took her current position. She has worked with Dignity for 12 years, striving to end homelessness in the city of Philadelphia. Tercero also worked as director of social services where she had the opportunity to connect directly with the residents. “I loved interacting directly with the residents. It was gratifying to see them achieve their goals and move beyond homelessness and poverty,” Tercero said.

In its January 2012 report, the National Alliance to End Homelessness stated that “homelessness is basically caused by the inability of people to pay for housing; thus it is impacted by both income and the affordability of available housing.” Dignity is a part of Philadelphia’s 10-year plan to end homelessness in the city. Dignity Housing helps alleviate the burden of expensive living and provides Philadelphia’s homeless with assistance in bettering their lives. “The mission is to break the cycle of homelessness by providing housing and comprehensive supportive services to homeless individuals and families in the city of Philadelphia,” Tercero said.

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