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Battling the Opioid Crisis to Create a Healthy Community

June 1, 2019

City officials have stated clearly that “Philadelphia is facing the greatest health crisis in a century. Every neighborhood is being hit hard by an epidemic of opioid use and overdose.” But, you don’t have to tell that to Nilda Ruiz, CEO of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc. (APM). With a Behavioral Health Center right on 5th and Allegheny, APM currently sits right in the epicenter of the opioid epidemic.

This isn’t new territory for APM. The organization has been working to address substance abuse issues in Philadelphia for nearly 50 years. In fact, APM was the first agency in Philadelphia to provide treatment for drug and alcohol rehabilitation designed specifically for the Latino population. APM’s Proyecto Nueva Vida (PNV) program provides intensive and regular outpatient services to adults. The Drug and Alcohol clinic offers family and couples therapy and can provide substance abuse treatment to individuals as young as 14 years old. APM staff is bilingual and culturally sensitive to meet the special needs of the area’s growing Latino population.

But even 50 years of experience hasn’t been enough to stem the tide of drug-related issues in the community, so recently APM called for reinforcements. Enter Dr. Hector Colon-Rivera. Dr. Colon-Rivera joined the APM team in February as the new Medical Director of the agency’s Behavioral Health Programs, with a goal of expanding the agency’s capacity to deal with the opioid crisis.

Dr. Colon-Rivera is a veteran in the battle against substance use disorder. He is the co-founder and Co-Chair of CrearConSalud Inc., a nonprofit organization with the goals of supporting and conducting non-partisan research, educational activities, and advocacy to increase public awareness of mental health and substance use disorders in Puerto Rico and the Latino/ community in the United States. He is also the coordinator of the Radio Vieques 90.1 FM Program, “Salud a Flote,” a 20 minute segment transmitted every Friday with the objective of educating communities in Puerto Rico on topics related to mental health and substance use disorders. He also serves as a clinical advisor for the Advisory on Alcohol and Other Drugs committee for the State of Pennsylvania, and he is the senior advisor for the Opioid State Targeted Response Technical Assistance for Puerto Rico.

“We are extremely proud to have someone of Dr. Colon-Rivera’s pedigree and cultural competence to serve our community, stepping up to the helm of medical director of the APM’s Behavioral Health Programs,” said Ruiz.

“The opioid crisis doesn’t only affect the individual, however,” Ruiz continued. “It affects the whole family, the whole community.” That’s why APM has re-doubled its efforts to help each family achieve their greatest potential.

Now, more than ever, APM’s programs are focused on creating a thriving, healthy community where residents are engaged and self-reliant. Whether they are helping 90% of their Pre-K students enter the school system at or above grade level in reading and math, helping families secure affordable housing, or promoting resident engagement through their Neighborhood Advisory Committee program, APM’s staff and volunteers have rolled up their sleeves and vowed to continue to fight for their community.

“We will celebrate our 50th anniversary next year,” said Ruiz. “When we first started, we were focused on helping people find safe, affordable housing. Now look at the neighborhood. Property values have gone from $55,000 to five times that.”

With this degree of success in their past, APM is poised to realize a bright future for the community they serve.

Ensuring a Future for Philadelphia’s Children – All of Them

May 29, 2019

May is National Foster Care Month – a time to acknowledge and celebrate the foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors and professionals who help youth and children find permanent homes and connections. This is a special time for Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM), a Philadelphia-based non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life in our community, because it shines a light on the vital work we are doing through our Pradera program.

In Philadelphia alone, there are nearly 6000 children in the foster care system. Each of them is looking for the same thing – a home.

“Every kid needs a place to call home,” says Igdalia Woodland, Resource Home Director for the Pradera Program, “and we’re working hard every day to help them find one.”

That work includes recruiting adults who are interested in becoming foster parents. According to Woodland, foster parents come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are young couples looking to build a family of their own, while other foster parents are older people whose own children have grown and flown. Prospective foster parents can also be single individuals. And while there are a number of statutory requirements, including being over 21 years of age and capable of passing a criminal background check, Woodland says the number one requirement is simple: a willingness to treat these children as their own and meet their individual needs.

Children in the foster care system come from varied situations. Some come from scenarios that are temporary; perhaps a parent is ill or incarcerated or otherwise not capable of caring for the child for a short period of time. In other cases, parental rights have been terminated, and the child is in need of a forever home. Foster parents should be willing to meet each child’s unique social, emotional, and medical needs.

“We know that navigating the foster process can be intimidating,” says APM CEO Nilda Ruiz. “That’s why we are here to help every step of the way.” The members of APM’s Pradera team are there to act as facilitators. They help train prospective parents, collect the requisite documents, create a satisfactory home environment, and troubleshoot during the approval process. The team at APM has successfully place 540 children in nearly 350 homes in the Philadelphia area.

But there is still a need.

Every day, more children find themselves in need of a foster parent to help fill the gaps. “We never have enough foster parents,” says Woodland. “The worst day is the day we get a call from DHS, and we have to say we can’t help.”

During National Foster Care Month, APM encourages adults in our community to think about whether they have room in their heart and their family for a child in need of a temporary or permanent home. While the ultimate goal of the foster care system is family reunification, foster parents play a critical role in ensuring every child in our community has the chance to thrive.

For more information about becoming a foster parent, contact Igdalia Woodland at (267) 296-7285.

APM’s Ruiz and Gray honored at PCA Conference

May 2, 2019

At the 2019 M. Powell Lawton Conference hosted by Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, the 2019 Lawton Award was presented to Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha’s President & CEO Nilda Ruiz and Senior Vice President of Community & Economic Development Rose Gray. At this year’s event, three panels addressed demographic changes in the city’s older adult population; challenges to providing appropriate services for these new populations; and approaches to working directly with these older adults and their family members.

APM is honored to be recognized and participate at this year’s event. Visit the PCA website here for more information.

PCA Conference May 2019 Ruiz

PCA Conference May 2019 awards

PCA Conference May 2019

APM Mourns Passing of Medical Director Dr. Oscar Saldana

April 3, 2019

April 3, 2019, Philadelphia – Dr. Oscar Eduardo Saldana, medical director for Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc. (APM) passed away peacefully on March 18,2019. Dr. Saldana’s career as a psychiatrist spanned over 50 years.

Born and educated in Peru, Dr. Saldana came to the United States in 1965 for his first medical internship at Prince George’s Hospital in Maryland. He continued his education in psychiatry at Hahnemann University Hospital, where he later served as a senior clinical instructor. Dr. Saldana spent his career meeting the behavioral health needs of children, adolescents and families across Philadelphia.

Dr. Saldana came to APM as a part-time medical director in 2014. His unique experience working with persons in recovery (PIR) made him a valuable asset in the agency’s work to treat our community’s mental health issues. He provided critical education to APM’s behavioral health team that enabled them to provide efficient and effective care, with the appropriate use of medications and other interventions. Dr. Saldana understood the importance of engaging the family in any treatment plan, and he took a personal interest in the on-going care of his patients.

Outside his work with APM, Dr. Saldana explored interests ranging from photography to gymnastics, track and field, and fencing. His love of soccer remained throughout his life, and even afforded him the scholarship granted by the Governor of Peru that enabled him to move to the United States to pursue his career. Dr. Saldana leaves behind life partner, Gladys, children, Deborah and Raphael, and many more extended family members.

How can Philadelphia’s point-in-time count do a better job of counting families?

January 25, 2019

Generocity.com January 25, 2019

This is a guest post by Daniel Farrell, SVP of homeless prevention and rehousing services at Help USA; Joe Willard, VP of policy at People’s Emergency Center; and Rachel Falkove, executive director of Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Three homeless service pros describe the limitations of current tracking methods and advocate for better data sharing across city agencies.

The number of homeless children and families are systemically undercounted in Philadelphia.

On the night of Jan. 23, hundreds of Philadelphians canvassed the city counting homeless people. The annual effort, known as the point-in-time count, attempts to quantify homelessness throughout the country. Mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD) since 2005, its flawed methodology has not changed since its inception.

It relies on volunteers to canvas geographic areas in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter. It does not count families living in substandard housing. It does not count families living with others, often in unsafe situations, due to severe economic hardship. It does not count children displaced and temporarily staying with relatives or friends because their parent or parents are in shelter. It does not count families sleeping in their car or in abandoned buildings.

[Editor’s note: Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services Director Liz Hershacknowledged this limitation in a Jan. 23 press release announcing the annual count. “We recognize that many people who are living doubled up or in extremely unstable situations need help,” she said, “and we welcome a serious conversation about what the reality is facing millions of Americans — and thousands of Philadelphians. Tonight, we are focusing on one component of America’s homelessness and affordable housing crisis.”]

Emblematic of the issue are Bruce and Jen, who were living on limited income raising their three children. When Bruce was injured at his job, they were unable to pay rent from Jen’s income alone and lost their housing. While bouncing around between relatives and friends’ homes, they applied to shelter on two occasions, but both times the shelter system was full and were denied entry. They stayed in the homeless shelter of Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (PIHN), a faith-based nonprofit serving families experiencing homelessness.

After three years of couch surfing and close to one year in PIHN’s shelter, they moved into their own rental unit with PIHN’s assistance.

“We were homeless for four years, but had hope for only the last one of those years,” Jen said. “We lived a three-year nightmare.”

Their “uncounted” homelessness left a damaging and traumatic mark on the family as their children were repeatedly displaced from their school, and Bruce fell into a deep depression and developed chronic medical issues. Throughout their first three years of homelessness, Bruce, Jen and their four children were never tallied in the point-in-time counts.

They are not alone.

Statistics of the number of families experiencing homelessness vary widely. For example, Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services and the School District of Philadelphia paint an entirely different picture of the number of school-age homeless children and youth.

The HUD-funded homeless service system in Philadelphia counted 2,749 children and youth in Fiscal Year 2018. At the same time, the School District of Philadelphia counted 7,228 students who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. That is an astounding 260 percent higher rate of homelessness than the Office of Homeless Services shows.

What is happening to the 4,479 children who are not being counted? We do know that third graders experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia score only half as well as their peers on testing, suggesting future costs in remedial education, greater truancy and dropout rates. These are boys and girls, living in our city, without the security of knowing where they’ll sleep tonight.

Why does this matter?

HUD, the federal agency responsible for dispersing hundreds of millions of dollars across the country for homeless services, use the point-in-time count to determine funding allocations. Undercounting family homeless is analogous to undercounting of the general population in the census. Millions of dollars in federal funding are left on the table and families like Bruce and Jen are routinely invisible to the system that is designed to assist them. Unless a family is officially counted as homeless, they are not eligible for an array of housing-based services which helps hundreds of homeless Philadelphians into permanent housing each year.

Federal officials, as well as some researchers, argue the definition of homelessness should be narrowly defined. Currently, it is defined as living in a place not meant for human habitation or in a publicly funded shelter. Why should a family have to be admitted to a homeless shelter to be counted as homeless? Additionally, the shelter system operates at capacity, routinely turning away families from shelter, as Bruce and Jen experienced.

The city has the capacity to aggregate data across agencies to accurately uncover the number of homeless families and their children. It must now have the will to do so. Properly counting incidence of homelessness for families is an important step to adequately addressing and ultimately solving the issue.

Signed by:

  • Family Services Provider Network
  • Daniel Farrell, HELP USA
  • Rachel Falkove, Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network
  • Joe Willard, People’s Emergency Center

Original Article: https://generocity.org/philly/2019/01/25/how-can-philadelphias-point-in-time-count-do-a-better-job-of-counting-families-homelessness/

WHYY: As Philly tallies homeless population, advocates say families are overlooked

January 24, 2019

A coalition of more than a dozen advocacy groups for the homeless in Philadelphia is demanding the city keep better track of the families and children experiencing homelessness or in unstable housing.

Their pleas come as hundreds of people survey Philadelphia’s streets, looking for anyone sleeping in places unsuitable for human habitation, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The annual canvassing began Wednesday night to supply HUD with the data to evaluate progress in tackling homelessness. The findings also influence the resources directed at the issue.

But the numbers don’t take into account all the families who are living outside shelters and off the streets in other unstable housing arrangements, advocates say.

“A couch is not a bed,” said Jason Miller, CEO of Families Forward Philadelphia, a group that helps provide families with emergency shelter.

“It is vital to shine light on the hidden nature of family homelessness since the point-in-time count findings are being used to define and shape our city’s response,” Miller said.

Advocates and Council members including Bill Greenlee, Helen Gym and Allan Domb are calling for the city’s Office of Homeless Services to partner with the school district to collect and share data on students experiencing homelessness.

They’re also asking that the city track the number of people seeking aid at homeless shelters who are turned away.

Finally, they want City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration to fund shelters to meet the needs of homeless families, fund more homeless prevention programs and prioritize the creation of affordable housing.

According to point-in-time counts in the city, the number of households with one adult and at least one child experiencing homelessness has slowly declined over recent years.

While the city reports having served more than 2,700 children, advocates say, the Philadelphia School District reported more than 7,200 of its students lacked regular nighttime housing.

For Bruce Thomas, the oversight is personal. He said he and his family experienced unstable housing for 10 years, and while he didn’t meet the official definition of being homeless, he felt like it.

After a work-related injury, Thomas, his wife and four children stayed with different family members so they wouldn’t be sent to separate homeless shelters.

“It’s the people that you don’t see, that need the help also,” Thomas said. “Like they didn’t see me, they didn’t know about me and my family for 10 years.”

Part of the problem is how HUD defines homelessness, according to advocates and City Council members. But the city can do some things to shed light on the scope of families at risk of losing their housing, they say.

“It probably falls on the city even more so because, clearly, the federal government is not doing what we feel is needed in a number of ways to help the most vulnerable people, so it’s on us to do what we can,” said Councilman Greenlee.

Greenlee said, while he can’t get into specifics of how much funding could be allocated to meet the needs of these families, it will be a priority this budget cycle.

Liz Hersh, director of the city’s Office of Homeless Services, said a national conversation about homelessness is long overdue.

“We applaud our local homeless providers and advocates for raising the issue and trying to jump-start a conversation about family homelessness that is a national crisis,” she said.

Locally, she said, the city has released a five-year strategic plan where a top priority is to increase resources to the most vulnerable people.

Original Story: https://whyy.org/articles/as-philadelphia-counts-people-experiencing-homeless-advocates-say-families-arent-accurately-represented/


KYW: Hidden homelessness: What overnight census of people living on the street misses

January 23, 2019

January 23, 2019 KYW Radio- by Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — An army of volunteers will fan out across Philadelphia Tuesday night to count the number of people sleeping on the street. The annual Point-in-Time Count is required for funding by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but advocates note it overlooks a hidden part of the homeless population.

Bruce Thomas wrenched his back on the job and, within four months, got evicted from the home where he, his wife and four children had lived for 13 years.

“First, we went to my sister’s for a few months. And when we left her house, we went to Delaware, where my wife stayed with her family and I moved back to Philadelphia and stayed in my car,” Thomas said.

Thomas never lived in the street and didn’t use the shelter system because the family would have been split up. But he considered himself and his family homeless.

Jason Miller of the Family Service Provider Network says families like the Thomases – that are couch surfing or living in cars – don’t get counted, which means many of them don’t get services.

“The FSPN believes it’s vital to shine a light on the hidden nature of family homelessness, since the Point-in-Time Count is being used to define the unmet need and shape our city’s response,” Miller said.

Office of Homeless Services director Liz Hersh agreed.

“Street homelessness is just the tip of the iceberg,” she added.

Last year’s Point-in-Time Count found some 1,500 homeless children under 18 in Philadelphia; 17 actually sleeping on the street and more than 1,400 in the shelter system.

But Miller says the school district reported 7,000 students who lacked a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence.

“Those are children living in our community without the security of knowing where they’ll sleep tonight, if they will be safe or whether they’ll have a hot meal or dinner,” he said.

Hersh says the city does use other data, but the federal government recognizes only street homelessness and shelter residents for its programs.

“That’s why we’ve tripled our homelessness prevention (budget) because we understand those needs are tremendous. There’s way more needs, obviously, than we can meet,” she said.

Council members Helen Gym, Bill Greenlee and Allan Domb promised to include more money in this year’s budget.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mis-stated the number of homeless children in the shelter system.


Original Story: https://kywnewsradio.radio.com/articles/news/hidden-homelessness-what-overnight-census-people-living-street-misses

Univision 65: Government Shutdown Assistance Story

January 23, 2019

January 22, 2019 Univison 65
Government Shutdown Assistance

The City of Philadelphia will offer help for federal workers during government closure.
Univision 65 Genaro Tijerina presents the following report.

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