Sister Mary Scullion reflects on helping Philly’s unhoused over 40 years, and what Project HOME residents taught her

Just because Sister Mary Scullion is stepping down from Project HOME does not mean she will stop helping people who are unhoused. It is quite the opposite, she said.

“We have to have that vision of what we want for the country and our community for the long haul. All of us have to be involved in making those solutions a reality,” Sister Scullion said. “It doesn’t matter what you do or what your profession is, but to care enough about the common good.”

Sister Scullion plans to dedicate even more time doing boots-on-the-ground work. That is how she began her work in advocacy more than 40 years ago.

Her effort has gained national acclaim. In 2009, she was named one of TIME’s 100 “Most Influential People of the Year.” Over the years, Project HOME has become a model to follow to assist those who are unsheltered.

Sister Scullion is intent on quickening the pace for more long-term support and pushing for better policies to address the increase in need.

The latest ‘State of the City 2023’ report by Pew Charitable Trusts showed that the share of adults experiencing homelessness remained at 45%. (Pew Charitable Trusts)

Project HOME’s latest assessment showed that approximately 8,206 people and families accessed emergency shelters in Philadelphia last year. The nonprofit HopePHL reported that more than 3,800 children and youth experienced homelessness in the 2022 school year, using data from the Philadelphia Department of Education and Philadelphia school district.

Emergency help is not enough, she contends, and the data bears that out. Each year, Project HOME has had to turn people away because of limited capacity, according to their online report.

This summer, Sister Scullion and fellow co-founder Joan Dawson McConnon announced their transition out of leadership. For her, no longer being at the helm of the nationally-renowned organization gives her more time to spend with the community she has served for the last 50 years.

Since she first started, the rates of homelessness have risen year over year.

The latest data from the Office of Homeless Services and Project HOME show that nearly 4,500 people experienced homelessness in 2022. But the data only scratches the surface.

This motivates Sister Scullion to find the people who have “fallen through the cracks.”

She said in the near future, she will be able to pivot from the administrative and organizational responsibilities to focus on the people and policy advocacy.

“[I want] to be able to spend my time with people who are unsheltered, learning from them and hopefully encouraging them along the way,” she told WHYY News. “It’s really not that much different than what I’ve done in the past, but that’s kind of what I want to do.”

‘I just started’

Over the last several decades, Sister Scullion has become a Philadelphia namesake for her advocacy, persistence, and leadership. In 2020, her friend and supporter Jon Bon Jovi called her the “Michael Jordan on the issue of homelessness.

Her foray into advocacy began in the 1970s, during her college years as a volunteer.

  • December 19, 2023
  • Articles,
  • This post was written by