A late Philadelphia scholar's homeless youth project was just given life - Generocity Philly

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Apr. 22, 2016 9:54 am

A late Philadelphia scholar’s homeless youth project was just given life

The brainchild of the late Dr. Staci Perlman, Building Early Links for Learning aims to connect homeless youth to early education opportunities.

BELL is being spearheaded by nonprofit providers.

(Photo by Flickr user Homeless Hub, used under a Creative Commons license)

Last July, the William Penn Foundation accepted a funding proposal from Dr. Staci Perlman, a University of Delaware scholar studying early education opportunities for homeless youth.

Perlman passed away a month later after a “brief illness.”

But her work lives on in the form of Building Early Links for Learning (BELL), a collaborative homeless youth project with two primary goals:

  • Improve spaces for children in temporary housing facilities by making them more “child-friendly”
  • Increase access to quality early childhood education programs for homeless youth

The project, operating on the $319,683 William Penn grant issued last summer, will work to increase enrollment in those early childhood education programs by 20 percent citywide.

While BELL is technically a collaboration between public and private partners, Office of Supportive Housing Director Liz Hersh said the project is really being spearheaded by nonprofit service providers.

Those partners include People’s Emergency Center, Public Health Management Corporation and researchers from:

  • Villanova University
  • Rutgers University — Camden
  • University of Delaware
  • The Cloudburst Group
  • The Children’s Workgroup — Early Childhood Committee 

Hersh said most of the work OSH does is through its nonprofit provider network. OSH is playing a support role to BELL.

“We’re also trying to be a partner and enhance our own services and facilities a little more than what we know they need,” she said. “We’re the bit player in this and we’re happy to be involved, but the private providers who made this happen are really the heroes.”

BELL, Hersh said, was “long underway” before she moved from the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania to OSH last month.

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Perlman “was leading the charge,” Hersh said. “She was dong the primary research. [Her passing] was a great loss.”

Perlman’s work documented the costs of homelessness for young children, which includes increased rates of suicide and increased likeliness of a lifetime in the public welfare system, among others.

“We know children are the victims of poverty,” Hersh said. “But to see it spelled out in that way over the course of a lifetime … is really sobering.”

The current state of temporary housing for homeless youth, Hersh said, is variable. Some providers have holistically good-quality services, while others lack the resources needed to provide that level of quality.

“The idea is to acknowledge children’s needs and, if their families are experiencing homelessness to try and enrich their experience and help them get some education and more opportunity,” she said. BELL will improve the physical spaces.

But this will be a drop in the bucket.

“It’s a big drop,” Hersh said. “But it’s a down payment in a way for what’s really needed for kids.”

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