Pa.'s first young-adult LGBTQ-friendly permanent supportive housing honors Philly pioneer | Opinion

The building is named in honor of Gloria Casarez, an outspoken and accomplished advocate for LGBTQ citizens and all citizens of our city. When Gloria passed away in 2014, Philadelphia lost a powerful leader.

Philadelphia recently reached a landmark achievement. On Dec. 6, 2017, Project HOME partnered with the city, state, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development  and many other supporters and advocates to break ground on the Gloria Casarez Residence at 1315 N. Eighth St. It is the first young-adult, LGBTQ-friendly, permanent supportive housing in the state of Pennsylvania.

As many as 40 percent of young adults who are homeless identify as LGBTQ. These young adults are often forced from their homes by familial hostility to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and they tend to spend more time homeless than their non-LGBTQ peers. Identity-specific support is an essential component of any program designed to serve this community, and this new residence provides direct support to those in our community battling poverty, marginalization, and an uncertain path into adulthood.

We’re grateful to all of the partners that are making the Gloria Casarez Residence a reality. The road to the groundbreaking was not an easy one, and it could not have been accomplished without strong leadership from the powerful voices from the LGBTQ community including Mel Heifetz, Arthur Kaplan and Duane Perry; and John Alchin and Hal Maryatt along with Carrie Jacobs, Executive Director of the Attic, Chris Bartlett the Executive Director of William Way, The Philadelphia Foundation, and the Mazzoni Center. Only through the conviction of that community were we able to accomplish the groundbreaking and provide a level of structure and support for those in our city who need it most.

This is the sixth affordable housing and support services development funded by MPOWER, a Project HOME community investment partnership spearheaded by Leigh and John Middleton that’s multiplying our impact to end and prevent homelessness.  MPOWER has brought new partners, resources, expertise, and leadership to Project HOME’s proven housing, employment, health-care, recovery and education programs — bringing us closer than ever to being the first major city to end chronic street homelessness.

But while we celebrate this progress, it is also tinged with sadness. This building is named in honor of Gloria Casarez, an outspoken and accomplished advocate for LGBTQ citizens and all citizens of our city. When Gloria passed away in 2014, Philadelphia lost a powerful leader. I remember Gloria as a young idealistic undergrad fighting for justice, just as I remember her as a passionate civil servant as the city’s first director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs. Seeing Gloria’s family at the groundbreaking strengthened our resolve to work every day to continue her work and honor her legacy.

We need strong voices like Gloria’s. During the groundbreaking, we heard powerful, inspiring words from elected officials, community leaders and young adults who have experienced homelessness. The Gloria Casarez Residence represents an important step forward.  Yet much remains to be done in even more challenging political times.

Throughout our communities and our country, we’re facing big decisions about the kind of nation we want to be, and how we will support those among us most in need of an equal opportunity to live stable and productive lives. For far too many, becoming an adult brings more uncertainty, fear, and marginalization.

Make no mistake: The policies enacted by our local, state and national elected officials directly impact the lives of all of us, and those at-risk groups most of all. Project HOME remains committed to our belief that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, orientations or upbringing, deserves a chance to develop their potential and contribute their talents and skills to our world.

With the Gloria Casarez Residence, we can provide an opportunity for a bright future for young adults and for our city. In the years to come, we can offer hundreds of young people not just a roof over their heads, but a chance at stability, employment, and post-secondary education.

This must only be the beginning. Our elected officials must go beyond stirring words and vote to give us the tools to build a promising future for all; to share our belief that none of us are home until all of us are home; to remember Gloria Casarez and work every day to honor her legacy.

Sister Mary Scullion is the president and executive director of Project HOME.