Philadelphia – Homeless advocates, early childhood educators, and developmental scientists announced the launch of a project to support young children experiencing homelessness called Building Early Links for Learning (BELL). The two main goals are to enhance the developmental friendliness of emergency housing, and to better understand and remove barriers that keep young homeless children from reaping the benefits of early education. Young children who experience family homelessness are less likely to be ready for kindergarten, and many do not enroll in quality preschool programs that can help prepare them for success in the early school years.

Originally conceived by the late Dr. Staci Perlman and with support from the William Penn Foundation, this group will promote ways that the Philadelphia family emergency housing system can better encourage early development while building links between temporary housing and early childhood education programs. The project aims to increase enrollment in quality early childhood education programs by 20 percent for young children staying in temporary housing citywide.

“Children in homeless families tend to be young” said Liz Hersh, director of the Philadelphia Office of Supportive housing. “Around 60 percent of children in Philadelphia’s temporary housing programs are under six years old, numbering about 2,500 children each year.”  Although they make up the majority of children in temporary housing, relatively little is known about their experiences before they enter elementary school.

“We know from past studies that many homeless children are already struggling by the time they get to kindergarten and first grade, and this slow start can contribute to later achievement gaps and other problems that persist throughout their entire school careers,” said Janette Herbers of Villanova University, who is co-leading the project. “Connecting more families to quality early childhood programs is one way to encourage resilience by getting children off to a good start in school.”

The project involves collaboration between the Philadelphia Office of Supportive Housing, People’s Emergency Center, Public Health Management Organization, researchers from Villanova University, Rutgers University-Camden, University of Delaware, and the Cloudburst Group, and the Children’s Workgroup-Early Childhood Committee, which includes family housing providers and others who serve families experiencing homelessness.

“BELL is all about resilience,” said J. J. Cutuli of Rutgers University-Camden, co-leader on the project. “Developmental science tells us a lot about what children need when they experience adversities like homelessness. This project is about Philadelphia’s family shelter and early childhood education systems working together to find ways to better meet those needs and help offset the challenges of homelessness for young children.”

The project is supported by a $319,683 grant from the William Penn Foundation that will fund efforts over two years.

About the Office of Supportive Housing (OSH)

The City of Philadelphia Office of Supportive Housing is the public entity charged with the policy, planning and coordination of the City’s response to homelessness. The mission of the Office of Supportive Housing is to assist individuals and families move toward independent living and self-sufficiency in safe and stable housing. Major areas of work include the coordination of the Homeless Continuum of Care and implementation of a wide array of services including emergency, transitional and supportive housing to individuals, couples, and families.

About People’s Emergency Center (PEC)

PEC’s mission is to nurture families, strengthen neighborhoods and drive change. PEC is committed to increasing equity and opportunity throughout our entire community. For homeless women with children and parenting youth PEC offers housing, job training, parenting and early childhood education, financial education and planning, life skills and technology classes. PEC seeks to change the life trajectory for the families who seek our services and inspire them to achieve housing security and financial stability. PEC advocates for urgently needed public policy changes on behalf of families and youth experiencing homelessness. PEC works aggressively with both local and national government agencies to advance legislation that will support families and youth who are experiencing homelessness.

About Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC)

PHMC is a nonprofit public health institute that creates and sustains healthier communities. PHMC uses best practices and evidence-based guidelines to improve community health through direct service, partnership, innovation, policy, research, technical assistance and a prepared workforce. PHMC has served the region since 1972. PHMC has a diverse portfolio of early childhood education services including the Southeast Regional Key, the Philadelphia Head Start Partnership and several others designed to ensure that all children in our region, and particularly those at risk, have access to high-quality early learning experiences.

About the William Penn Foundation

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion.