Preventing homelessness for families in Philadelphia

Hello to all the people who are reading this! My name is Benjamin, I am 18 years old (almost 19) and normally I would say I live in Germany, but currently you find me in the USA. To be accurate, in Philadelphia. Funny information is that I am living in a part of Philly called Germantown.

I am here for one year that means till the end of August. Wow -- already 4 months have passed. I arrived last September and time is running. The organization that made this experience possible is called ARSP (Action Reconciliation Service for Peace). ARSP sends every year young people, who finished school, to different places in Europe (like France, Belgium, Britain, Poland) Israel, Russia, and also to the US. ARSP is connecting locally with other organizations, which are „in need “of a volunteer and try to match them up with our strengths.

So, I am currently working at an organization called Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, shortly PIHN. This non-profit organization is trying to prevent homelessness for families, living on the street. The families are the most important piece in this equation. In almost every case we are working with children and parents or just a parent. This is an essential point because the organization was founded to stop the increasing number of homeless children.

The city of Philadelphia has huge problems with homelessness, which came mostly through the drugs. I mean the city is looking way better now then back in the days, but you can still see the consequences and problems the city has to face.

To make it clearer what I am doing here I will give you a short example how our shelter program works. In most cases families come to us and ask for help. In the beginning, we write down general information like living situation, income, background, and children. After an evaluation process we decide if we take them into our shelter program and they then move to a church. Why to a church? Good question! Because we are a non-profit-organization and we are only financing ourselves through donations. We have to be very economical with our money. This is why we ask churches in our surroundings if they are able to give our families shelter. We then build up a system where families are moving every month from church to church. Our system works well but is also very exhausting for me. Every month my part is to move the belongings of the family from one church to another.

For a family, this whole process lasts from a couple months to a year or even longer. It depends how easy the parents find a job and a place to live in, where we obviously support them. If that happens they will move out and into a permanent place. Which is also a part of my work. We will stay in touch with the families and are always checking in on how they are doing, if they manage to get enough money and being responsible with it. In this whole process we support the families in every possible way. They are able to get food, toys, diapers, clothes and a lot more things from us.

This was a short description of my organization. My work is in between. I am helping where I can and have to be very flexible. But my main task is furniture deliveries. For the families it is very important because when moving they mostly do not have any furniture like a mattress or a dresser. My job is it to secure these basic things. How is that possible? With donations from people who do not need their furniture. It is a win-win situation for those who want to get rid of old furniture and the families which receive new furniture.

People usually contact me by e-mail or a call at the office. They give me a description what they want to donate and then we set up a time for a pick up. At the promised day and time, I will pick them up. Then I ask if anyone needs the donations and drop them off at the new places. This was a „perfect-case “scenario. Almost every time something unexpected happens, either my partner is not there, I got the wrong address, the traffic is taking me too long, an accident happens or it is just too much work at the office. It means that I have to be very flexible and spontaneous.

Although it is a learning experience, the work takes a toll. Last year, I did not go much out because I needed time to adjust to the new environment. But I do have a lot of plans for 2020! Beside my work I want to go on trips through the country over the weekends. I would like to see more than just the East coast. America is a country with so many cities and wonderful places! It is unbelievable for me that many people I am talking to did not see more than their hometown. In addition, I would also like to get involved in politics and be more active and informed about current topics. If you want to change something you have to be involved. I do not know what 2020 brings, but I am open for every opportunity that is coming my way.