Max Silverstein, 100; was on Penn faculty, led study of homeless

Max Silverstein had written three books.
Max Silverstein had written three books.
Posted: May 20, 2012

Max Silverstein, 100, of Center City, a faculty member from 1966 to 1977 at what is now the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, died of cerebrovascular disease Thursday, May 3, at his home.

After retiring from Penn, he was chairman of the Mayor’s Public-Private Task Force on Homelessness for Mayor W. Wilson Goode in the late 1980s. A task force committee estimated in 1987 that between 900 and 1,500 of the city’s 10,000 homeless people were mentally ill, and that the system for dealing with them was in disarray.

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Silverstein graduated from Central High School in 1928 and earned a bachelor’s in 1932 and a master’s in social work in 1936, both at Temple University.

He began his career as a case worker for the Philadelphia Health Department, but moved to Los Angeles in 1938 to work at a sanitarium.

In 1946, he helped found the graduate program in social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was a faculty member through 1949, said his daughter, Mady Edelstein. During this time he also served as a consultant on the Oscar-winning 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives, about the stresses on three World War II veterans returning to their small hometown.

Mr. Silverstein returned to Philadelphia, where from 1950 to 1966 he was executive director for the Mental Health Association of Pennsylvania. During the same years, his daughter said, he was the community organization consultant for the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Citizens Association for Health and Welfare.

In 1966, he earned a doctorate in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, joined the Penn faculty that year, and helped develop the curriculum in community organization and social planning.

An honorary member of the Philadelphia Psychiatric Society, in 1991 he earned the Benjamin Rush Award from the Philadelphia County Medical Society, a recognition given to “a Philadelphia layman who has made exceptional voluntary contributions of effort and/or funds to the health and welfare of the people of Philadelphia,” according to the Medical Society.

He was the author of three books: Mental Health Education: A Critique published by Smith, Kline & French in 1960; Aftercare: Planning for Community Mental Health Services, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1968; and Vital Connections, published by Lexington Books in 1990.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Silverstein is survived by four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Belle, died in 1997 and their daughter Trudy Frieman died in 1993.

A memorial was set for 5 p.m. Saturday, July 7 in the solarium at Hopkinson House on Washington Square.

Contact Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com

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