A major housing project is going up on North Broad Street that will put a roof over the heads of those who were once homeless.
City, state and local officials broke ground Tuesday on 2415 N. Broad St., a construction development consisting of 88 affordable housing units with 2,457 sq. ft. of retail space at the street level just north of Temple University.
The $24 million project is funded by a combination of public and private money from generous donors to Project HOME, as well as through the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and others.
“We understand that building community with each other is the ultimate answer to the degradation of homelessness and poverty and many of the struggles that are faced by our city and our nation,” said Joan Dawson McConnon, co-founder and associate executive director and CFO of Project HOME.
“It isn’t separation that gives us strength. It’s the coming together of people from all walks of life to share their talents, their knowledge and their resources to make this a better and more just society.”
Project HOME estimates that on a given night in Philadelphia in 2015, there were 650 homeless individuals living on the streets, about half of which were in Center City.
The new low-income tenants at 2415 N. Broad St. are identified through the city’s selection process and Janet Stearns, real estate developer for Project HOME, said that the organization has been working closely with the city to fill those spaces.
The building will have typical security systems in place – cameras, key-card access and a 24-hour reception desk, “like there would be for any new apartment building,” she said.
But perhaps the most touching and unexpected story of Tuesday morning was that of Malou “Penny” Bonnie, the young resident of JBJ Soul Homes, the 55-unit permanent supportive housing residence for adults made possible by Project HOME on Fairmount Avenue.
Bonnie said she moved to the U.S. from Liberia when she was only five years old with her step-mother, but quickly found herself a foster kid, and was passed around from family to family before she got settled with people who she felt really cared about her.
“I had about six different care workers and families to get to know, so, I built up a wall to everybody from having to get to know so many people over and over again,” she said.
“After a few years, when it was time for me to come out of foster care and time for me to move, my agency was doing nothing to help me transition and look for different housing programs…I was about to be stuck with no home. When I moved into Project HOME, I just remember everyday felt like the first day. It was really beautiful. I said, ‘oh my, God. This is mine.’”
Bonnie, now in her 20s, said she studies criminal justice in college and works at Allied Barton security services. She said she hopes to motivate others to be persistent and stick through tough times.
“Every one of those individuals who find themselves in that homeless situation is a human being with a story, and if you understand their story, then you understand how they got where they are,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
“In many cases, its not their fault. It’s something that happened in their life that they could not recover from, but they’re still human beings, and they still have a story.”