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The best in Philly: Shared Prosperity Philadelphia

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The Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) is looking for multi-service agencies that are located within neighborhood communities to serve as Benefits Access Centers and Benefits Referral Sites to assist low-income residents of Philly to connect with public benefits.

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If your organization is interested in becoming either a Benefits Access Center or a Benefits Referral Site, please submit a letter of interest by 5 pm on Wednesday, January 15. If you know of an organization who may be interested please pass this information onto them. To learn more about this opportunity or to submit your letter, please visit the Shared Prosperity Philadelphia website at: http://sharedprosperityphila.org/.

So what is Shared Prosperity Philadelphia?

In January of 2013 Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter promulgated an Executive Order in which it called for a formulation of a strategic plan that will address the impact that poverty has on the city as well as the residents of Philly.

In July of 2013 Mayor Nutter and Eva Gladstein, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, introduced a new anti-poverty strategy, Shared Prosperity Philadelphia. This strategic plan will combine agencies that are already working to reduce (and perhaps even eventually eliminate) poverty as well as better coordinate, increase efforts and make improvements on how progress is tracked.

Although for over 40 years residents of the city have benefitted from the work of the Mayor’s Office of Community Services that have assisted those who were living in poverty by helping them become self-sufficient, poverty remains a constant problem. Perhaps the economic collapse that began in 2008 even made it worse.

“Poverty is a persistent and devastating problem in Philadelphia. It affects children, families and seniors and limits the potential of our great city’s economy, communities and thousands of citizens,” said Mayor Nutter. “Shared Prosperity Philadelphia is a critical first step in creating a new, holistic approach to understanding, confronting and reducing the effects of poverty and creating a more thriving, prosperous Philadelphia for every citizen.”

Poverty doesn’t just hurt those who are impoverished, but affects every member in society such as the city’s inability to create revenue because a percentage of residents don’t have jobs thus can’t pay taxes, local businesses can’t make money resulting in these businesses closing, poverty hurts families, neighborhoods and perhaps even school districts.

Another issue to consider is the part poverty plays when it comes to crime, blight and forms of domestic violence or child abuse. Then there’s also the quality of life issue.

When you have communities who are able to have access to whatever aid or programs that are available and have the knowledge of these programs you also have stronger communities; these communities then share their strength with the school system as well as contributing overall to making Philadelphia a great place to live and work.

Shared Prosperity Philadelphia isn’t something that should happen down the line, but right now because these are some of the statistics:

• 51% of households make less than $35,000 per year.

• 28% of the residents live below the poverty line. That means 1 in 10 Philadelphians don’t have a job or access to public benefits. Over 50% of the residents who live in East North Philly and Fairmount North/Brewerytown do so in poverty.

• The unemployment rate in the city is 10.7% and the national average is 8.1% with the Pennsylvania rate being 7.8%. The only city that’s higher than Philly is Detroit.

• 234,160 people who work in Philadelphia live in the suburbs.

• There were 246 murders in 2013 which the police say it’s a decrease, but that means there are 246 families who are in mourning and suffering a loss. These victims were: 80% African American, 88% were male, 82% were killed by a gun, 62% who were killed were between the ages of 18-34 and 74% were killed outside.

• Test scores for Philadelphia School District students dropped in 2012 to almost the same percentage as it was in 2008; for math the percentage was 50% of the students who at least scored as proficient and reading was 45%.

• The leading cause of death for residents between 15 and 24 years of age is homicide.

• 14% of Philly residents don’t have health insurance. This means they also don’t have access to preventative medicine that could avert many of the health conditions that affect people such as diabetes, high blood pressure or arthritis.

• Employment qualifications or requirements don’t match the skills or abilities of the city’s residents.
Although the picture of the city and its residents may seem bleak right now it doesn’t have to be that way. These problems are fixable and it may take some hard work, but Philadelphians are a tenacious bunch and aren’t afraid of hard work. It will take everyone pitching in.

On the Shared Prosperity Philadelphia’s end they are committed to the following:

• To educate the residents about the issues on a deeper level and to develop solutions that will work; to address the challenges and build or strengthen opportunities.

• To add 25,000 more jobs, including 1,700 in the hospitality industry, by the end of 2015.

• To reduce unemployment and narrow the gap between the city and national unemployment percentages.

• To increase educational and training placement opportunities for low-income adults, which would include vocational and life skills training, obtaining a GED and post-secondary education.

• To establish outreach centers in existing community sites that employ staff who are familiar with the culture of the neighborhood and language that will offer access to benefits and resources. The outreach centers will utilize a single application and assessment tool that will connect consumers to physical and behavioral health, social, and employment services. The Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity will facilitate a more coordinated system of emergency food distribution as well as ensure that residents will have access to photo identification.

• Offer 25% more children with pre-literacy skills before kindergarten, increase the quality afterschool opportunities, educate through public awareness campaigns about dangerous banking practices and improve the numbers of pregnant women and parents of young children who need to receive early childhood resources like Early Intervention, Head Start, immunizations, and the WIC nutrition program.

In an interview with Eva Gladstein she explained further about some of the actions and resources that Philadelphia residents will be able to have access to such as:

• The access and referral sites will not only connect residents with city services, but also services on federal and state levels as well. These may include benefits provided through the PA Department of Public Assistance such as income support and SNAP (food stamps) and benefits such as federal Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Care subsidies, veterans benefits, or property tax rebates.

• That the Shared Prosperity Philadelphia website will be updated whenever new programs or information becomes available in order to keep people informed. The website’s address is: http://sharedprosperityphila.org.

• On the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity’s website the Fatherhood Initiative has been moved to the RISE (the Office for Reintegration Services for Returning Citizens) website; that RISE intends on expanding the services within this initiative such as providing services to fathers who are still incarcerated, and by establishing mechanisms to increase opportunities for fathers to visit with their children. RISE’s website is: http://rise.phila.gov/.

• The CEO is coordinating with Philadelphia Works, Inc. Philadelphia’s workforce development agency is directly responsible for administering the public resources that come to Philadelphia for the purpose of job placement, training and career guidance as well as providing services to the actual employers. Philadelphia Works also works closely with Pa CareerLink and the Impact Earn Centers. Within the next several months, CEO will begin funding several organizations to provide training and support for employment. When those funding decisions are finalized the information will be made available on the Shared Prosperity website. Philadelphia Works website is: http://www.philaworks.org/.

• When asked about jobs that are available where potential employees aren’t paid enough to support their families without government assistance Ms. Gladstein stated that one of the goals is to increase resources to help those with barriers to employment to gain the necessary training and supports to secure employment; that her office is coordinating with Philadelphia Works, the City’s Department of Commerce, and other agencies who are working directly on this issue.

So as a resident how can you help create a better Philadelphia or if you need to get help?

You can visit the Shared Prosperity Philadelphia’s website at www.sharedprosperityphila.org to read what the plan is all about. If you don’t have a computer you can use a computer at any Free Library and all you need is a library card, at an Impact Earn Center, the Urban League of Philadelphia or at a CareerLink location as long as you are a registered client.

You can also work to get the word out to neighbors who need assistance, your local church, mosque or synagogue and even to any support groups you are aware of in your community because anyone who has lived in Philadelphia for any length of time knows how effective word-of-mouth is.

If you are a school employee, work at a daycare center or afterschool program the parents that come to pick up their kids or participate in parent-teacher conferences also would benefit from Shared Prosperity Philadelphia especially the ones who need the help that the website is offering.

Perhaps you may want to find out ways you can help using the hands on approach. To find out if there are any volunteer opportunities available please contact The Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity at 990 Spring Garden Street, 7 floor, Philadelphia, Pa. 19123. The telephone number is 215-685-3600.

Remember as a city we must stand up for ourselves in order to preserve a future for the children.

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