Homeless Youth & LGBTQ Lions

On Wednesday, Project Home broke ground on the Gloria Casarez Residence, a four-story, 36,547 square foot new construction that will provide 30 LGBTQ+-friendly affordable homes for young adults (ages 18-23 at entry) who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness, including those aging out of foster care.

Residents will benefit from a combination of housing, employment, education, and health care services, in addition to case management, life skills education, and community building activities.

The new addition to our community resources was named after Gloria Casarez, Philadelphia’s first director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.  She sadly passed away in 2014 after a long battle with cancer.  In her short- lived life, she became a powerhouse for LGBTQ+ advocacy and civil rights leadership here in Philadelphia and across the nation.

Casarez was also a founding member of Empty the Shelters, a youth-led national housing rights organization, and executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative in Philadelphia.  During her tenure, Philadelphia adopted the broadest LGBTQ+ rights protections in the nation.

During the ground-breaking ceremony, we were reminded by Sister Mary Scullion, Co-founder and Executive Director of Project Home, who was wearing a “WWGD” (What Would Gloria Do?) button on her lapel, that, of the nearly 600 homeless youth in Philadelphia, 31 percent of them identified as LGBTQ+.  That’s nearly 200 homeless LGBTQ+ homeless young brothers and sisters on the streets on any given night.

John Middleton, board member for Project Home and managing partner for the Philadelphia Phillies, challenged us to get active with those politicians who are pushing for this current tax bill, which will eliminate the all-important tax credits these projects require, and demand that they leave them alone.

Without such tax credits projects like this and others would not be possible.

In his remarks, Mayor Jim Kenney said such housing has been a long time in coming and thanked the “LGBTQ lions” in reference to Arthur Kaplan, Duane Perry, Mel Heifetz, John Alchin, and Hal Marryatt, who all were sitting in the front row beaming with excitement as they watched their dream come to life.

“I just want to thank you for maintaining your dignity and your strength,” Kenney said, as he became emotional.

Of these men, I must personally thank Kaplan and Perry for having the gift to dream big and the will to bring it to life.

I have heard of this project for many years now and know that had it not been for these two men sharing their vision to protect our youth this project would not have materialized.  A great many hands have made this project rise but Arthur Kaplan and Duane Perry gave birth to the idea of an LGBTQ+ youth homeless shelter.

So, to them I say thank you for allowing us to share your dreams and seeing them come true.

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