The Crisis of Homelesness in Philadelphia
Each year, Philadelphia’s homeless shelter system serves approximately 15,000 people, of whom 5,300 (35%) are adults and children in families.  Many of these parents are seeking not only basic shelter for their families, but also support to help end long cycles of violence, poverty, unemployment, abuse and addiction. A policy study of Philadelphia’s transitional housing providers has confirmed that homelessness is most commonly a consequence of multiple, intense social and economic conditions in a family’s life, rather than a lack of housing affordability alone.  Among the study’s most tragic findings:
- More than half of families receiving transitional housing assistance in Philadelphia (55.2%) are led by single mothers who are high school dropouts. Half (49%) of single-mother families have never lived independently prior to becoming homeless.
- 40% of all families are led by women reporting domestic abuse; one in four women (25%) report a history of sexual abuse as children.
- More than half of caregivers suffer from post-traumatic stress or another psychotic disorder.
- Over a third of families (37.8%) are led by single mothers raising three or more children. 49% of all children are below school age, at age 5 or younger.
In a city that leads the nation in poverty among the top ten cities in the U.S., young women and their children are clearly facing the brunt of this crisis. Without the help of stable housing combined with intensive, individualized support services, women with histories of addiction and/or abuse are too often incapable of living independently and adequately caring for themselves and their children. Homeless children whose families are further disrupted by abuse and substance dependency suffer from physical distress and are more prone to undernourishment, chronic illness, serious violence and behavioral and developmental problems.  The educational impact is profound: 61% of homeless youth transfer schools at least once a year, taking four to six months to adjust to a new program. Such deep-rooted emotional, developmental and academic barriers often persist into adulthood, perpetuating poverty and homelessness across generations.
By the City’s recent estimates, there is a current need for over 2,100 supportive and transitional housing units for homeless families with children, and 3,800 housing units for local populations struggling with substance abuse recovery.  In this context, transitional housing is an important component of strategies designed to help families in crisis to stabilize, acquire and retain the skills necessary for independent living, and secure long-term, affordable housing.
At the community level, Frankford has a proud history of middle-class prosperity since followed by significant decline, and subsequent rise in poverty, drug use and crime. The neighborhood retains numerous infrastructure assets and concerned citizens working towards revitalization, yet still faces significant obstacles. The local homeless rate stands at around 10%, with almost 25% of residents living in poverty. Single women head 37% of households. Compounding other risk factors for homelessness is the fact that Frankford’s low-income households continue to pay well beyond the average rate of 30% of income towards housing costs, with the recent housing crisis exacerbating this problem. Recent months have also seen the closing and reduction of services by several other human service providers in the community, which had provided significant resources to struggling families. Against this backdrop, Overington House is playing an increasingly vital role in helping vulnerable Frankford families secure support for their basic needs, individualized transitional assistance, and long-term affordable housing that will allow them to achieve and sustain healthier, more stable lives.
 Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development, Year 35 Consolidated Plan, Appendix 68 (2009).