The People’s Emergency Center (PEC) has been dedicated to serving the homeless population in the city of Philadelphia for 45 years. The organization began as a small, weekend, student service ministry in 1972. Volunteers came together with a donated budget of $12,000 to house families and couples. By the 1980’s, daily services and a full – time staff were available to families in need. In the 1990’s, PEC was able to provide not only emergency shelter for families, but also added transitional and permanent housing to their catalog of services and assistance. Expansion continued in the early 2000’s with the addition of youth programs as well as computer labs and technology courses.
In 1992, the People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corporation (PECCDC) was established. The CDC uses a holistic approach to community development in order to provide quality programs to the Lower Lancaster neighborhoods. These neighborhoods include Belmont, Mantua, Mill Creek, Saunders Park, West Powelton, and most recently Parkside. The approach to aid the CDC uses builds on the assets of the community while simultaneously responding to residents needs by collaborating and creating connections to resources and partnerships.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the PECCDC. Some of the successes of the CDC, described by the Manager of External Communications Trish Downey, include 11 annual Jazz Festivals that are free to the public, 50 new business on the corridor since 2002 which has decreased the commercial vacancy rate from 35% to 23%, and an increase in high school graduation rates from 52% to 74%.
Much of the success of PEC and the PECCDC is due to the abundance of programs they offer to families and individuals that seek to increase their human capital in the community. The majority of the programs offered are free to not only the residents of PEC but also to all residents of the city.
Some of the most popular programs include the arts and culture programs whose most popular event is the Lancaster Avenue Jazz Festival, fitness programs that include nutrition classes as well as health fairs and a weekly food cupboard and digital literacy programs that include both youth and adult classes.
The Center for Employment and Training is also extensive. The program provides income support, financial counseling and employment training and placement in the neighborhoods PEC supports. The career readiness training includes courses in self-esteem, ServSafe certifications, customer service and sales, and computer literacy with a concentration in Microsoft Office. Upon the completion of career training, PEC ensures their participants continue to get support.
They are not only offered coaching sessions to aid in job searches but also continue to have sessions 18 months after finding employment to offer continued mentoring and advising to help participants keep the jobs they undoubtedly earned. Downey expressed that one of the most rewarding programs offered is the Community Connector program. Individuals participating in this program do street outreach. They travel to street fairs, health festivals and other events to share the resource and programs PEC has to offer.
PEC is able to maintain and continue to expand their programming because of the invaluable partnerships they establish with corporations, educational institutions, foundations and similar organizations. They are also connected to all the CDC organizations in the city of Philadelphia. By maintaining these relationships, PEC is able to not only provide programming to various communities, they are able to aid various groups in their efforts to strengthen communities.
One special partnership PEC has is with Parkside’s West Park Cultural Center (WPCC). WPCC host’s GED classes at a PEC site. Downey described the class sessions as unique and specifically designed for the students. Program director Dr. Patricia Powell designed the class to function as a study group, focusing on areas students need the most help in. This allows those preparing for the exam to remain invested because they feel they are getting the help they need in a meaningful and personal method.
As PEC continues to grow, Downey has high hopes for the organization. It is her hope that as programming continues, the organization builds a new generation of advocates. They are fostering this growth by providing individuals with numerous volunteer and internship opportunities. PEC will also continue to be the human services giant that is strategic in their program offerings. They look to support those in immediate need, and continue to serve as many communities as possible, catering to not only homeless adults but also provide programming and awareness about homeless youth in the city of Philadelphia. Ultimately, Downey hopes that PEC will continue to be an agency that encourages citizens to live, and recreate in their home neighborhoods because of the great things that take place organically.