In A Shelter, Room To Rebuild Women And Children Also Get Some Privacy

Posted: November 14, 1990

She wound up homeless after she no longer could stand being abused by her boyfriend. "I got sick and tired of going through it again and again," she said.

At first, Charmaine Jenkins, 24, and her three young children lived in a dormitory-like shelter. No privacy. No sense of home. No peace.

But yesterday, although she's still in a shelter, Jenkins had a place of her own. One she is proud to show off to visitors.

She lives now on the second floor of the brand-new People's Emergency Center shelter in West Philadelphia, in a private room just for Jenkins and her children: Dante, 5; Dominick, 3, and Tyaira, 2.

A room with her own bathroom, her own shower, her own key, her own doorbell, her own view out to Spring Garden Street.

"I love it like this," she said. "For it being a shelter, I have a lot of privacy."

Yesterday was the grand opening of the shelter's new quarters, a renovated abandoned carriage factory at 3902 Spring Garden St., adjacent to the 16th Police District.

From cramped quarters at 33d and Chestnut Street, the PEC shelter has moved into what executive director Gloria Guard called a national model: It is the first shelter, she said, where homeless women and children can move from emergency housing to transitional housing units to permanent apartments - all under the same roof.

The $2.5 million new center is the result of a venture between PEC and Pennrose Properties, a private developer specializing in low-income housing. It was funded by 17 sources.

At the PEC center, all the homeless women and children start on the first floor, in small dormitory-style rooms. Their public assistance checks are turned over to case managers, who help them manage their money and build up savings.

After six to eight weeks, they are eligible to move up to the second floor, where there are 11 "family rooms." These are designed for stays of six to 12 months while the women seek placement in permanent low-income housing. The children attend neighborhood schools.

"This arrangement helps with the client's self-esteem," said Lisa Brown, a case manager. "It's private. They can come and go."

On the third floor is permanent housing: nine apartments to be filled with tenants referred by the PEC staff. They will be leased by Pennrose on a regular landlord-tenant basis, but the residents will have access to the vast PEC support services.

Yesterday, Estelle Brickman and two of her three children - Mark, 5, and Chantelle, 3 - stood in the empty three-bedroom unit that will be her future home, as admiring visitors wandered in and out.

Brickman, who is now on the PEC board, spent nine months in the shelter and will be the first tenant to move onto the third floor.

"It's very hard," she said of her experience with homelessness. "You go through a lot of emotions. You have to keep a positive thought. I hope to have a house of my own."

The shelter, with a paid staff of 32 and about 100 volunteers, is expected to serve 300 to 400 families a year.

Three of the transitional family rooms have been "adopted" by churches, which provide furniture and clothing.

"Thank you for the diapers," Jeanine Clark, the mother of two children, told Barbara Kanzinger from Gladwyne Presbyterian Church yesterday. "This is home. I love it. It's so much more peaceful."

"You need a night stand and a laundry basket, I see that." Kanzinger told her. Then, she promised to bring her both.

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