Volunteer coordinator John Owens carries some of the generous donations that have been received by Project HOME during the coronavirus crisis. (Photo courtesy Project HOME)

It’s a funny thing about Project HOME, Philadelphia’s premier organization in service to the outcasts of society and poorest of the poor.

In its promotional material it denies that it is faith based. Never mind that it was founded by Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion along with her lay associate Joan Dawson McConnon. Never mind that if there is one institution in the Philadelphia area that most epitomizes the ministry of the Mercy Sisters’ foundress, Venerable Catherine McCauley, it is Project HOME.

Or for that matter, an organization that better honors the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Since its beginning in 1989 Project HOME has been a leader in providing comprehensive services to persons who experience chronic homelessness, providing food and shelter to street people, and over time helping many of them to address the problems that put them on the streets in the first place.

Along with this it develops programs that prevent others from drifting into homelessness.

At this time organizations across America and much of the world are facing the challenge of life during coronavirus. That includes Project HOME.

This is a very serious situation for the people who are on the street,” Sister Mary said. “For those who do not have a home it is very hard to comply with the CDC regulation and health rules. People who are on the street need a place to go to the bathroom, to take a shower and get a meal.

“There weren’t enough of these before and it is even harder now, with the libraries and other such places that the homeless rely upon are closed. I think there is a greater chance for the homeless to be exposed to the virus because of this.

Right now at its various locations, Project HOME is providing services to about 1,500 people daily, including shelter for about 1,000 people. The population includes the very young, with their mothers, teens who have aged out of foster care, people with mental and physical disabilities, people with serious health issues and the elderly.

But the goal is, at least for most, to give people the tools they need to become self-sufficient.

“We tackle homelessness in the short term but in the long term (we) help them have affordable housing and work with a living wage, Sister Mary said.

So far, the coronavirus has not had a great effect on the mission of Project HOME but has presented challenges. As with every institution, nonessential employees must stay home, along with those who might have young children.

No client has tested positive for the deadly virus but that may happen.

“We try to educate people on what they should do to avoid the virus, but some really don’t understand,” Sister Mary said.

Donations may have dwindled slightly, and the massive forced mandatory shut-downs and high unemployment are bound to have further impact.

“People can only do what they are able,” Sister Mary said. There is always a need for non-perishable foodstuffs, but of course money is the best donation. “They want to help and do the best they can,” she said.

Project HOME relies on every bit of help by individual donors, but Sister Mary admits it’s not just about individuals themselves.

“It’s the power of we,” she said.

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For more information visit the website projecthome.org. Checks may be sent to Project HOME, 1515 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19130