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In December, I attended a groundbreaking for the first LGBTQ friendly affordable housing in Pennsylvania. The new residences will be built near 8th and Girard. Girard Medical Center seemed to be most of what is going on in that area. I saw row houses, old factories, remnants of the Reading rail line and cracked, weed-overgrown concrete.

The program might be long, so I wanted to take a bathroom break before it started. There was no bathroom at the site, so I was directed to the medical center across the street. Girard Medical Center is needy; clean, but worn, and has been operating in bankruptcy. The guard had to let me into the rusted door of the bathroom. This is not a Main Line hospital/medical center. Girard Medical Center is bare bones and specializes in drug and alcohol rehab. People were waiting around before or after treatment.
Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Project Home greeted people as we walked into the tent erected for the groundbreaking. Nancy and I are fortunate to have been able to support Project Home for a number of years.

People present were supporters, politicians, officials, and gay rights activists. In addition to the usual puffery, I learned some things from the speakers.
• Of the ten largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia is the poorest.
• Of the ten largest cities, Philadelphia has the lowest rate of homelessness. In large part that is due to Project Home’s advocacy.
• About a third of young homeless people are LGBTQ.
• Jessie Keel, a young resident of another Project Home residence spoke about how she was getting her life together after a period of couch surfing with friends and relatives. I was surprised how well she spoke in front of the hundred or so people present. In addition to working, she is taking classes at Philadelphia Community College.
• John Middleton spoke. The Middletons sold their pipe, cigar, and Tobacco Company to Altria, the successor to Phillip Morris and are wonderful philanthropists. They have been active not only in giving money, but working to bring the new residences toward completion. Middleton was concerned about loss of affordable housing tax credits, which I understand were preserved in the new tax bill.
• Darrell Clarke, President of City Council, spoke. Up until then, I didn’t think much of him- I recall that he declined to hold public hearings to discuss a sale of Philadelphia Gas Works which I thought was a dumb thing. Hearing him in person, however, I felt differently. He seemed bright and well spoken. He lived not far away from 8th and Girard and appears to be a strong advocate for his constituents.
• I’d never heard Mayor Kenney speak before either. Maybe he faked the tear he shed at the groundbreaking, but I don’t think so. He said he believes that cities will save the nation because of their diversity.

Here are some of my thoughts: It’s important to get out of your comfort zone, to see how the other half lives. I saw it that cold day in December.
Skilled and trained workers are a must in order for the economy to continue growing. With unemployment at historic lows, what will be the source of those workers? They probably won’t be immigrants. Maybe some of them can come from North Philadelphia?

Recently, I read “The Innovators”, by Walter Isaacson. The book tells the story of developers of computers and the internet. A common theme for many of the innovators was that their parents were teachers or engineers. They had a love and the opportunity to study science and math at an early age. Many children living near 8th and Girard probably don’t have the parental advantage that the innovators had.

We support the Hope Partnership for Education, which operates a middle school at 12th and Lehigh, also in North Philadelphia. Nancy is on the Board, and teaches there as
well. Hope seeks to bring willing children up
to math and reading at grade school levels so that they can get into a good high school.

2017 has been a great year for those of us fortunate to have had parental advantages, attended good schools, have good healthcare, experienced a good family situation and have financial assets. I believe that we’re obligated to help those less fortunate.

Politicians often use the expression “hardworking families”. Not all families are hardworking, rich or poor. Some can’t work because of illness, lack of education and training, drug addiction. Some don’t work because they don’t have to. Some are deadbeats who want to freeload off others. Just because there are a few bad apples, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we can to help people climb out of poverty and homelessness.

If I get a tax cut from the new tax law, I won’t be eating extra dinners or buying new clothes. If a poor family climbs out of poverty by having a better paying job, decent housing, affordable quality healthcare, they will spend and buy new things. It won’t be easy, but maybe they can be an asset to our society. That helps business.
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