Mar. 9, 2020 12:53 pm

These women are leading change at the city’s largest family shelter

Ceciley Bradford and Kathy Meck are part of the leadership team that is effecting the renaissance of what was, 100+ years ago, the Traveler's Aid Society and is today Families Forward Philadelphia.

Kathy Meck and Ceciley Bradford.

(Courtesy photo)

Family homelessness is somewhat hidden, and it can be hard to find consensus on how many families are homeless in the city.

The number constantly changes and varies based on source. According to the City of Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services2019 Point-in-Time Count, there are over 650 homeless households totaling nearly 2,000 individuals. The 2017-18 Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness (ECYEH) Report from the Pennsylvania Department of Education identified over 7,000 children experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia County. The population includes children under the age of five and youth enrolled in pre-K through grade 12.

Ceciley Bradford, chief operations officer of Families Forward Philadelphia, and Kathy Meck, the organization’s chief development officer, understand this challenge well. Families Forward Philadelphia operates the city’s largest family shelter for those experiencing homelessness, which serves 65 families nightly as well as maintaining transitional and permanent supportive housing units in West Philadelphia.

Philadelphia has a housing affordability crisis that leaves one out of every 94 of its children without a home. Bradford said the crisis can be measured in two ways: (1) the gap between wages and rents and (2) the gap between the number of vulnerable households and the number of units that can serve them. Regarding the gap between wages and rents, research from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) indicates that renters must earn $23.29 per hour to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the city; unfortunately, Philadelphians make a mean $11.94 per hour. Regarding the unit gap, NLIHC has found that there are only 30 affordable units for every 100 extremely low-income households in Philadelphia.

From our Partners

“In the nation’s poorest major city, there simply is not enough housing for the poor. Without access to units in their price range, low-income families face cyclical residential instability—renting units they cannot afford, falling behind on rent, facing eviction, ‘doubling up’ with family or friends in overcrowded conditions to stave off homelessness, and eventually, being placed in a homeless shelter such as ours,” Bradford said.

She came to Families Forward Philadelphia a little over a year ago, to create structure, focus on accountability, and measure impact. “This gave me rein to dive into all operational aspects of the organization,” she said.

Bradford conceptualized an improved supportive services model that delineates services into four buckets:

  • Case management — building healthy and meaningful relationships with the families served; it is creating a personalized road map for income and housing stability.
  • Workforce development — job skills and employment that lead to increased income.
  • Education — focused on both the children and parents, including connections to adult education programs, in-school support, inter-generational learning, uniform assistance, tutoring, and more.
  • Agency support — meeting basic needs such as food, clothing, toiletries, identification documents, educational supplies, transportation, rent subsidies, etc.

“Change management is fascinating to me, given the opportunity to participate in such an exercise at an awesome organization is not one I could pass up easily,” she said. “I was excited to join a team of like-minded leaders — who were ready to dream a little — and put forth effort to realize some difficult changes.”

Meck joined that team eight months ago. She has spent her career in nonprofit fundraising, but said she has never experienced an organizational culture that is working so avidly to problem-solve, create structure, take risks, and infuse joy into the everyday.

“Our families are some of the strongest people I know, and I am inspired by them and honored to be part of their extended family,” Meck said. “I thrive in changing environments, where strategy and relationships are valued, making it a perfect time for me to be at Families Forward, where I am charged with growing our philanthropic revenue to support the long-term achievement of our mission.”

The organization has a $100,000 grant application pending with Impact100 to fund the acquisition and implementation of a new data system that will equip it to track and share its impact.

The organization is also launching its first community driven What’s Next Day of Giving: Spring into Action on Tuesday, April 21.

“Like a garden ready to bloom, families experiencing homelessness have unlimited capacity to grow,” Meck said. “What they need are strong roots and tender caretaking — emergency shelter and transitional housing, intensive case management, employment support, and educational programs. All of that is possible when the community participates in our inaugural What’s Next Day of Giving.”

The organization is seeking:

  • Cash donations. Whether you make a personal contribution or collect from friends and family, your support will help address family homelessness. Imagine if everyone in our community donates $1 on this day. How about $5?
  • Gift cards. Whether it’s to a store, a restaurant or an online retailer, gift cards will support the many needs of families living in emergency shelter. Consider donating gifts cards from place like Shoprite, Aldi, CVS, Target, Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Forman Mills, etc.
  • Donation drive. The families need baby items, toiletries, nonperishable food, cleaning supplies, and more. There are so many creative ways to mobilize businesses, schools, religious organizations, civic groups, book clubs, and more to propel the What’s Next Day of Giving.

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