In the early 1980s, Alicia Christian experienced a period of homelessness that, albeit brief, sparked a passion for working against homelessness. By 1988, Christian and her supporters founded housing nonprofit Dignity Housing in Germantown.
Until last month, the housing nonprofit has been helmed by founding members. But a new era is being ushered in with People’s Emergency Center veteran John Ungar at the reins as executive director.
Ungar said Dignity Housing’s unique approach to quelling homelessness through individualized coaching programs will be maintained. It’s part of the nonprofit’s identity.
Despite owning 60 housing units where they put up homeless individuals both temporarily and permanently, Dignity Housing assigns each person a case manager to help come up with a “life skills action plan” that determines what they’ll work on during their time with Dignity. The ultimate goal is to get people experiencing homelessness back on their feet, in jobs and in permanent housing.
Some graduates of the programming even sit on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Some graduates of the programming sit on the nonprofit's board of directors.
“I think that’s really important, to stay true to the original roots of the organization by having them represented in our governance,” Ungar said.
Dignity already has an after-school program in the basement of one of its properties for the 60-plus children it serves, but Ungar wants the organization to do more through partnerships with corporations and real estate developers.
“It’s all about leveraging the resources you have,” he said. “One thing I’m looking to do is develop more corporate and individual relationships and reach out to … people involved in real estate development.”
One such person is developer Ken Weinstein, head of social impact company Philly Office Retail. Ungar knows Weinstein from years of working in Northwest Philadelphia, where Weinstein is leading the Jumpstart Germantown initiative.
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Connecting with more property owners, Ungar said, will open up new leasing opportunities for Dignity. But while the focus will always be on the homeless and their families, Ungar said it’s just as important to remember Dignity is a Germantown-based organization.
“I want to make sure we’re contributing to our neighborhood,” said Ungar, adding that Dignity has connected with Historic Germantown on possibly partnering on an after-school program for children of homeless families. “It’s possible our kids will take a trip there. For them to see this amazing stuff in their own backyard is wonderful.”
And the local network of homelessness providers, he said, has been nothing but resourceful since he’s taken over at Dignity.
“[Office of Supportive Housing Director] Liz Hersh has met with us and other organizations,” he said. “This whole field of providers to homeless families is very well connected and coordinated. I feel like there’s a great supportive network.”