Pope’s visit empowers initiative to aid and end homelessness in Philly
“I experienced poverty and hunger. Sleeping in cars and knocking on doors for food. It came to the point where I just stopped eating all together to save food for my grandson and you can see it still lingers on, that’s the kind of impact this has on you,” said María Guzman, a North Philly resident and member of the World Meeting of Families Hunger and Homelessness Committee.
Guzman is a widow who is raising her grandchild and whose life changed when she started volunteering at the Community Center at Visitation B.V.M., in the Kensington area. She is now part of a committee created by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to address the needs and challenges of hundreds of homeless people during Pope Francis’ visit in Philadelphia.
An interfaith effort, the group is composed of civic and religious leaders who are planning to welcome and honor the Pope with a campaign “to end homelessness, hunger and poverty.”
“The parkway is one of the jewels of the city with many of our rich cultural treasures,” said Sister Mary Scullion, president and executive director of Project HOME and the co-chair of the WMOF Hunger and Homelessness Committee.
“But the parkway is also home to some of our poorest citizens, who have no place to go and who are hungry. They live and sleep on this very parkway,” Scullion said. “It is also here that in 97 days Pope Francis will speak to as many as 2 million people and we believe as he has done so many times in the past, he will speak out about the crisis of poverty.”
One of the prevailing social problems in Philadelphia, the 2014 Point in Time Count reported there were 5,738 homeless persons in the city, either on the street or in shelters.
With leadership from Project HOME, the committee has worked for several months to develop a plan to implement concrete actions to end and prevent hunger and homelessness in the Philadelphia region and Camden.
“We see Pope Francis’ visit as an opportunity to build our capacity. If Pope Francis comes and we simply love that he is here and are inspired by his words, we believe that his words and actions have to move us to action,” Scullion said.
On June 22 organizers announced the “Mercy and Justice Initiative.” The Francis Fund is a special short-term fund to address the needs of persons who are hungry and homeless.
Money raised will support organizations in Philadelphia and Camden that work with homeless and hungry people. Around 50 human services organizations have already been approved for support, with almost $700,000 already committed to the effort.
The second initiative, the Act for Justice Campaign will reach out to Congress, urging a concentrated national response to the crisis of poverty. The campaign has been signed by 50 national organizations and 25 local organizations.
The website Mercy and Justice was designed for the campaign so people can easily donate and advocate online.