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Public Policy in Practice with Sister Mary Scullion and Luke Tate

Cassie Tomkins
May 3, 2017

Fels was honored to have renowned advocates for the homeless, Sister Mary Scullion and Luke Tate, speak at the latest Public Policy in Practice event on Friday, April 21st. A recurring theme throughout the evening was that homelessness is a persistent problem that requires all of us to take meaningful action through legislation.

Often called "Philadelphia’s Mother Teresa," Sister Mary is the Founder and President of Project HOME, a Philadelphia nonprofit committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness. She would often begin anecdotes with “this is a true story,” and describe meeting icons such as Bon Jovi (a major funder) and the Pope (during his 2015 visit to Philadelphia), but would also speak with the same reverence and awe about the lives of people experiencing homelessness, a testament to her belief in the dignity of every person. Throughout the event, Sister Mary shared the history of deinstitutionalization in the US, the impact policy has on homelessness, and the social and political hurdles Project HOME has overcome to create shelters and serve those who are housing insecure.

Luke Tate spoke about homelessness on a more national level and from the perspective of a government official. He recently became the Assistant Vice President and Executive Director of Opportunity Initiatives and a Professor of Practice in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. Prior to joining ASU, he was the Special Assistant to the President for Economic Mobility and previously was the Senior Advisor for Urban Policy at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He worked in the Office of Policy Development and Research where he was a lead on the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. During his time at HUD, Luke proposed legislation that would end homelessness for families with children by 2020. The question that he posed in the evening conversation was, “why aren't we?”

In a similar way, Sister Mary compared Philadelphia’s struggles with homelessness to that of Seattle. Philadelphia is a city of nearly 1.5 million people. In 2016, Philadelphia's Point in Time Count found 705 people living unsheltered. By comparison, Seattle, a city of only 684,451, reported nearly 3,000 people living unsheltered in their 2016 PIT count. Though she’d never take the credit, Sister Mary's lobbying and program creation have much to do with the drastic decrease in homelessness in Philadelphia. 

Another thing that Luke and Sister Mary addressed is a need for greater bi-partisan paths to talk about the financial impact of homelessness on our communities. Luke mentioned that one option could be a better social impact bond that leads to change that both parties can agree on. Sister Mary encouraged people to meet those who are homeless and create pathways for more people to interact and share experiences. Luke spoke on the importance of utilizing national resources to spur local change. Both he and Sister Mary have done much to move the needle on issues of homelessness in our cities. Together, they urged the attendees to be strategic in pushing public policy that will positively affect people on the margins. As the motto of Project HOME states, “None of us are home until all of us are home.”

Watch the full event video here

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Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu