Transit facilities — train stations, bus depots and transportation centers — are often the shelter of choice for people experiencing homelessness, especially when weather conditions make it too dangerous to stay outside.
In Philadelphia, for the past six winters, Project HOME — an organization that works to end homelessness through a continuum of services comprised of street outreach, a range of supportive housing, and comprehensive services — operated the Hub of Hope in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA’s) Suburban Station in downtown Philadelphia. Operating from January to April in a 150-square-foot storefront in the train station, the Hub of Hope placed many into shelter, treatment and other housing options throughout Philadelphia. In 2017, 1,462 individuals visited the Hub of Hope more than 11,000 times.
But homelessness is a year-round — not a seasonal — issue. To better assist those experiencing chronic homelessness in Center City, the Hub of Hope needed a larger space, open every day, not just January to April. To accomplish this goal, Project HOME, the City of Philadelphia, and SEPTA joined together to establish a first-of-its-kind engagement center for homeless created via a partnership with a social services agency, a transportation authority and a municipality. The new 11,000 square-foot permanent Hub of Hope, located in the downtown Philadelphia transit sub-concourse opened its doors Jan. 30.
“Beyond the its human toll, homelessness presents unique challenges for SEPTA and our customers, especially in Center City,” said SEPTA Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. “That is why SEPTA and our Board are proud to support the Hub of Hope to help those struggling with homelessness."
In the past year, SEPTA has seen an increase in the number of individuals taking refuge in its stations, especially Suburban Station. “There are a variety of factors that can contribute to homelessness — poverty, lack of affordable housing, rise in opioid addiction, and inadequate mental health facilities,” said SEPTA GM Jeffrey Knueppel. “Many individuals with nowhere to go are making their way to our concourses and stations.”
Construction on the new Hub of Hope began in August 2017. "This was a very ambitious project with a rigid deadline," said Knueppel. "We had to be ready for opening in January. The new Hub of Hope is located in an underground concourse space that was last used by the Philadelphia Police Department's Transit Division about 25 years ago. Crews of in-house employees and contractors worked tirelessly around the clock to meet the challenge. What they accomplished in such a short period of time is a testament to the commitment they made to helping the city's homeless."
The expanded Hub of Hope includes shower and laundry facilities. Visitors can also enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a meal. As with the smaller, storefront center, staff continue to engage, assess, and place individuals experiencing homelessness into shelter, treatment, or other long-term housing opportunities with supportive services. Visitors can also speak to peers or case managers, receive medical and behavioral healthcare, and get linked to recovery services and programs.
SEPTA Police and Philadelphia Police officers play an integral role in helping Project HOME reach individuals in need. “Our officers have been trained on how to approach those in need of assistance in our stations and concourses and can contact Project HOME and have their outreach staff work with the individuals or can take them directly to the Hub of Hope,” said SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel. “We are seeing many people take advantage of the great resource the Hub of Hope is.”
The new Hub of Hope is making a difference in the lives of those experiencing homelessness in downtown Philadelphia. On its first day, the Hub saw more than 200 people. As of March 31, the census was more than 1,500 individuals. In just two months, the Hub had placed 414 people in shelters, safe havens, and treatment centers. By comparison, in its six years in existence, the seasonal Hub of Hope placed a total of 1,400 individuals in similar facilities and programs. Additionally, those visiting the Hub have taken 750 showers and washed 439 loads of laundry.
“The results prove what we knew, that the expanded Hub of Hope was much needed,” said Sister Mary Scullion, Project HOME co-founder and executive director. “I think all of those who made the facility possible. We have much work to do to end chronic homelessness in Philadelphia, but the Hub of Hope is a great asset for helping us reach that goal. This partnership is a model for cities across the country.”
Heather Redfern is the Public Information Manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.