Adam Bruckner, Youth Director at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission and Director of Philly Restart, shares with us some questions and answers on issues of homelessness and poverty in Philadelphia.
Q: Why don’t the homeless guys just move to Florida where it’s warm?
A: People who grew up here want to live here. Family and friends and being familiar with a city. And it’s a long walk.
Q: Why doesn’t that bum just walk into McDonald’s and get a job?
A: You can’t walk into McDonald’s and get a job unless you have an ID, phone number, and address. And you need ID to get ID. And money.
Q: Aren’t all homeless guys addicts and Vietnam Veterans?
A: Some are, but not nearly as many as I thought years ago.
Q: Why don’t they just go to a shelter instead of sleeping on a vent?
A:Sometimes the shelters are full. And some find shelters dangerous, restrictive, and uncomfortable. Some of our best guys have stayed outside to avoid bad influences and drama that comes with a building full of others who are struggling.
Q: Did you hear the story about the homeless guy who was begging for change all day and then went and got into his Mercedes?
A:Yes, it was a great story.
The question I probably get asked the most is, “what is the main reason someone is homeless?” I used to think that it was mental illness and substance abuse alone; and those play a significant role. But I have found that the main reason that someone is homeless in Philadelphia is family stuff. Many in Philadelphia are homeless, not helpless. And there was no safety net to catch them when they lost their job, relapsed, got out of prison, forgot to take their meds, lost their housing, etc. I have friends in my hometown that have some of the same problems, but their parents were able to bail them out.
So for the last eleven years, we have lumped together an odd family of our own at 18th and Vine Street, at 4 p.m. We call it Philly Restart, and we are a non-profit through the Helping Hand Rescue Mission; but it is far more than a free meal and practical assistance. For many, we are the most consistent things in their inconsistent lives. For some, we are the family that they do not have.
I don’t make bold proclamations about ending homelessness in Philadelphia. We just try to help where we can. If there were a simple solution, someone else would have found it already.
We have found that it is pretty easy to help someone in a small way, but really difficult to make a lasting impression with an adult who has fallen away. And so we find ourselves working in intervention in the homeless, and have expanded into prevention with some children in North Philly.
The Helping Hand Rescue Mission has been operating since 1905, assisting the poor and needy in Philadelphia. For many years, the focus has been on those on the streets and in shelters. In 2006, we started to work with children living in poverty, and our hope is that this will be a generation of change, as many of the men and women who stand in our meal lines on Mondays grew up in the same circumstances our children live in today.
Just as there is not a simple way to end homelessness, there is not a simple way to prevent it. Our hope is to offer the children in our program every advantage possible. We run after school tutoring, kids’ club, a soccer academy, and camps. We hire local teenagers (our junior leaders) to team with our volunteers to run our programs. And we just try to have fun.
We encourage our young people to love God, love their neighbors, and to love their neighborhoods. We show them that there is a good path available, and we try to walk it with them. We focus on educational, spiritual, and personal aspects of their lives, and then just try to help them to be good kids. Simply, we hope that good kids become good adults.
We don’t have answers for all of the tough questions. We don’t have simple solutions. Sometimes all we can do is all we can do. We can’t fix the problems of a major city, but we know that we can help.
If it weren’t for Adam, “The Backyard Philly Project” wouldn’t exist.
- Check out “The Backyard Philly Project” trailer.
- Learn more about Philly Restart.
- See the short doc. Ferasha Films made about Philly Restart and the “Outdoor Feeding Ban” proposed by Mayor Michael Nutter last year.