“I see a person who just wants to be understood and loved”

In Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, Stop the Risk offers people at risk for addiction, homelessness and mental illness acceptance, support and a tent.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published in the Kensington Voice and appears here as part of the Broke in Philly reporting collaboration. Next City is one of more than 20 collaborative news organizations, a report project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us on twitter @BrokeInPhilly.

Since May, Patrice Rogers has supported dozens of people at risk of drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness through his street awareness activities and his outdoor shelter in a camp near McPherson Square Park. The shelter, called Stop the Risk, is located on open land at 3033 Kensington Ave.

Rogers, who founded the program, aims to help residents find stability. She begins by having conversations with potential residents to learn more about them and their goals.

“Getting to know them as an individual is one of the ways I think we can help end addiction,” Rogers said. “You have to meet and understand who this person is and why they have come to where they are. ”

This fall, Jeremy, from upstate New York, lived at Stop the Risk for about two months. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeremy’s last name was withheld for privacy reasons.]

He was walking by the parking lot when he met Rogers. She explains her program, asks Jeremy a few questions, then invites him to stay. He had recently returned to Kensington after leaving a denominational recovery residence. His goals were to stop using drugs and find work.

“At the end of the day, I know what to do and I’m going to do it,” said Jeremy, who graduated from the program in early mid-November.

Before Rogers bought and cleaned up the property, it was filled with trash and overgrown grass and weeds. Now, Rogers allows up to 10 residents to live there at a time.

Residents live in individual camping tents located inside a large white canopy tent on the property for up to three months.

Rogers provides residents with tents, and as an incentive, they can move into larger tents if they progress towards their goals. The program has rules and requirements, such as helping to keep the area clean and looking for work. Additionally, although abstinence from drugs is not mandatory, substance use is not permitted on the property.

The Stop the Risk shelter program is unique due to its exterior configuration, time limit, and target population. However, Dennis Culhane, a social science researcher at UPenn who focuses on homelessness and housing, said the shelter model – which was started in Philadelphia by HOME Project co-founder Sister Mary Scullion – is well established and evidence-based.

“The low barrier aspect, the lack of treatment or sobriety requirements, these are all hallmarks of safe shelters, and they have been very successful in involving some of the people who have the most difficulty connecting to the facilities. services otherwise, ”Culhane said.

According to people who stayed there, Stop the Risk served homeless residents who didn’t think local shelters were suitable. Unlike shelters, the shelter is outside and residents come and go throughout the day and have a safe place to leave their belongings. In addition, Rogers offers them individual support.

In the past six months, Rogers estimates that between 20 and 30 people have stayed at the shelter. Since then, six people have “graduated,” meaning they have returned home, found new accommodation, or continued their recovery elsewhere.

In Kensington, settlements of homeless people, drug addicts and other vulnerable populations have been a quality of life problem in the region since at least the early 2000s. Some Kensington residents believe the city only provides solutions. in the short term, such as the cycle of cleaning the camps and connecting the camps with social services.

Rogers, who lives near Kensington, shares this frustration, especially with the lack of solutions.

Everyone is trying to figure out what the solution is, and no one can find a solution, ”Rogers said. “… My program is working. I count, Kensington matters and these people matter.

Stop the risk: how it works

At Stop the Risk, residents take responsibility, such as cleaning up the area around the property, setting goals, and looking for work or work.

“I tried to figure out what people wanted, and the main thing they wanted was to work,” said Rogers, who put the residents of the shelter in touch with local construction jobs and the compensation program. the same day in town via CLIP.

And although the duration of the shelter program is three months, Rogers has supported residents like Jeremy, who completed the program earlier. She also supported residents who needed more time.

“I’m not evicting them because they might not be ready,” Rogers said, adding residents are allowed to stay longer in the shelter on a case-by-case basis.

As part of the program, Rogers meets with residents individually and in groups to offer support, conflict resolution and incentives. Rogers also wants the band to experience everyday life. For example, in October, she took them to the movies to see “Halloween Kills” with Michael Myers.

“We had popcorn – and it made them feel human again if they didn’t feel like it before,” she said.

Yet the program model faced some challenges. As winter approached, residents experienced colder temperatures due to the shelter outside. The strong winds also made it difficult to keep the large white canopy tent in place. Rogers went to great lengths to get as much heating equipment as possible and a metal structure called a “carport,” which should help stabilize the large white tent.

“I’m trying to find things that we may have to keep [the tent] together so that people can have a safe place during the winter, ”she said.

Rogers added that at this time she needs the following donations in addition to the carport and heating equipment: blankets, gloves, hats, insulated camping tents and sleeping bags. Going forward, Rogers said she may be eligible for additional funding to continue her work. So far, she has spent her own money to fund the services of the organization.

According to Jennifer Bonovitz, a Stop the Risk volunteer, Rogers has reached a point where the program needs more funding. Now Bonovitz is helping Rogers apply for nonprofit status.

If approved, Rogers will be able to apply for grants and collect tax-deductible donations. Until then, it will continue to provide services to the best of its ability. With additional funding, Rogers said she could consider serving other types of at-risk people and hiring staff to help run the organization.

“I can see my program take it to another level,” she added.

“I’ll be at the finish line waiting for all of them”

As part of Stop the Risk, Rogers is doing street awareness in the neighborhood. She also hires people in front of the shelter from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. She and several other volunteers regularly distribute meals and clothing.

According to Bonovitz, since Rogers spends a lot of time in the neighborhood, she is able to observe people and determine whether or not someone is ready to start the program.

“They are expected to get to the point where they can move out and find their own accommodation,” said Bonovitz, who met Rogers while volunteering at Project HOME.

Rogers said it gives residents the opportunity to “get back on track.” For her, the program is more than just a job. It’s his passion.

On a more personal level, Rogers said she took care of her addictive husband Jonathan, who passed away last year. Rogers used to pray that Jonathan – the “best man” she had ever known besides her father – would come home from Kensington, and she would often pick him up in McPherson Square Park.

“People didn’t know my husband had a beautiful wife and beautiful children and that his dinner was waiting for him on the table, but he just chose to come here,” she said. “They didn’t know we had a nice car. They didn’t know my husband was in the union making $ 34 [an hour]. They only saw the “addict”. They didn’t know what he had.

Rogers added that homeless people on the streets of Kensington and their loved ones are pushing her to do this work.

“I’ll be at the finish line waiting for all of them because I believe in them,” she said. “I know they can do it. … I see a person who suffers from mental health problems. I see a person who suffers from drug addiction and illness. And I see a person who just wants to be understood and loved.

Zari Tarazona is the managing editor of Kensington Voice, a community-driven newsroom and publication serving the heart of Kensington in North Philadelphia.

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