Home Sweet Vincent’s HomesLaurence Tiblis
As the Vincentians enter their 171st year of service to the poor and the marginalized in Germantown, they recognize the urgent call to continue to be witnesses of hope and dynamic change in response to their founder’s words: “We must evangelize and serve the poor not only spiritually, with tender compassion, but also corporally...”
To do this, they didn’t have to look any further than their own backyard.
One key ministry that sits squarely in the Vincentian mission is homelessness. According to Fr. Robert Maloney, CM, the Congregation of the Mission’s former Superior General, the Vincentian Priests and Brothers are actively engaged in the problems of Germantown residents. They stress the need to continue bringing support and hope to the immediate community.
“The Vincentians seek to address systemic change and the plight of the local homeless population by working on ground-level efforts,” states Fr. Maloney. Reflecting on Marian devotion in Germantown, he adds, “Mary had no dwelling place at the time of Jesus’ birth. There was no room in the inn for her, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus. St. Vincent pointed out that Mary, better than anyone else, understood what the gospels teach us about hearing and responding to the cries of the poor.”
Drawing inspiration from their founder, the Vincentian Priests and Brothers in Germantown have joined in a recent Vincentian Family global initiative, in conjunction with the United Nations, to address and eradicate homelessness worldwide.
In 1643, King Louis XIII endowed today’s equivalent of $1 million to St. Vincent, which he used to launch a project to build thirteen houses to care for abandoned and orphaned children, who would otherwise have died. Additional financial support from the Ladies of Charity and operations management by the Daughters of Charity allowed this project to not only save the lives of thousands of children, but also deliver aid to displaced people and refugees fleeing the battle zone of Alsace-Lorraine. The success of these efforts eventually gave rise to a global commitment to develop residential recovery programs.
Inspired by St. Vincent’s practical response to homelessness, the Vincentians launched a campaign in October 2018 to address the issues of those without adequate housing. Known as the “13 Houses Campaign,” this global initiative aims at transforming the lives of at least 10,000 people in the next three to five years in the 156 countries where the Vincentian family is present. Currently, 52 projects have already been launched in 37 countries and nearly 5,000 people have been helped. The Campaign’s motto is: “Help us end homelessness, one house at a time.”
Community collaborators are also heeding the call for investing in a tailored version of 13 Houses in Germantown. Known as “Vincent’s Homes,” this initiative branches out from the Shrine and the Vincentians’ residence in Germantown by acquiring, rehabilitating, and leasing properties to individuals living on the edge of homelessness.
WHAT MUST BE DONE?
The Vincentians and CAMM announced the “Vincent’s Homes” campaign during their 170th Anniversary Gala celebration in 2019. They described the initiative as a unique opportunity for addressing and furthering their own region-specific efforts. The Germantown neighborhood, where the Priests and Brothers reside, is nestled in an urban setting where the surge of unemployment and instability has plunged the most vulnerable citizens into poverty. This involves a number of interrelated challenges: 40% of the residents have less than a high school degree; 21% of the homes are vacant; and 37% of individuals plus 44% of whom are children live below the poverty line. There was no question that the time to build and sustain a safer, better, and more prosperous community is now.
“Vincent’s Homes will be a resource for building communities, uniting families, and strengthening partnerships in order to restore hope, dignity, and faith,” states Fr. Maloney. “It will also help [the Vincentians] maintain an active part in restoring and revitalizing a historic section of Philadelphia, which has been a longtime center for devotion to Mary.”
THE BUILDING BLOCKS
Within the context of the 13 Houses campaign’s goals and vision, Vincent’s Homes’ organizational committee and urban development partners devised a model in which they would acquire, rehab, and then lease the homes at affordable rents to qualified low-income candidates. The committee will begin by acquiring thirteen homes, with the goal of expanding to 100.
The target development area follows the natural boundaries of the East Germantown neighborhood, radiating roughly eight blocks in each direction from the Vincentians’ campus. Acquisitions will be single family (two-four bedroom) properties.
Tenant health and energy efficiency are key factors for rehabbing the homes to maintain a high standard property.
Acquisitions will be single family (two-to four-bedroom) properties, which will be open to lower-income families and families with vouchers from particular housing programs. Wrap-around social services such as job training, workforce placement, and health services will also be provided. Additionally, an appointed property manager will establish an ongoing relationship with tenants to help address any issues and challenges they encounter before they affect the family’s housing stability.
This chosen model is replicable and scalable within East Germantown. The committee wants to ripple outward to adjoining neighborhoods in Philadelphia, to other areas in the United States, and eventually worldwide
One unexpected component of the plan is the use of solar energy for utility services to the homes. Solar panels are capable of providing a positive, indirect effect on the environment and reducing, if not negating, utility costs for the residents. The panels will be installed on the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal’s (CAMM) roof across the street from the Shrine. This makes CAMM one of the first Catholic institutions using its building to generate energy for a surrounding community.
IT’S A WIN-WIN
This ambitious endeavor has propelled the Vincentians’ service to the poor to a new, broader level of engagement. Not only will it affect the Germantown community, but it will also help tell the story of poverty and homelessness, educating the public on the need for systemic change cultivated through affordable housing. It is geared to create an environmental stewardship to address blight and build the aesthetic appeal and pride for residents and their surrounding community. It has the potential to foster collaboration between local, city and regional groups. It has the goal to alleviate the underlying currents of poverty and create safe living environments.
Fr. Maloney is overjoyed on the prospects this campaign can ignite.
“What a joy it will be to dedicate our time, resources, and talent to accomplish what the Lord and St. Vincent called us to do,” states Fr. Maloney. “As Vincentians, we must continue to be a resource for building communities, uniting families, and strengthening unity of partnerships that collaborate to restore hope, dignity, and faith.”