With panhandling and homelessness ramping up on the sidewalks of Center City, a homeless advocacy group and a business improvement district have teamed up in an outreach effort and are asking the public to get involved.

The information campaign launched Tuesday highlights five formerly homeless Philadelphians. “Your story doesn’t have to end here. I know because mine didn’t,” the ads say, giving information on where to get meals, services and housing.

Sister Mary Scullion, who runs the homeless advocacy group Project HOME, said the ads particularly target those who are newly homeless.

“The longer people are out on the street, the more difficult and challenging it can be to come in,” she said. “The first day that someone is on the street [we] want to engage with them and give them information where they can take those first steps home.”

Starting Friday, postcards are being distributed to retailers, restaurants, hotels, residential buildings and offices in Center City, featuring the same five people and details on services. The idea is that the members of the public will take the cards and hand them to people on the street, to “invite more people to get involved in ending homelessness and poverty in our city,” Scullion said.

The campaign is an extension of an effort earlier this year that paired outreach workers and police connecting with homeless people in the downtown area. That outreach campaign helped 134 people come off the street, said Paul Levy, president of the Center City District.

About 5,700 people are considered homeless in the city, which includes about 950 who are unsheltered on the streets, according to the city’s office of homeless services.

One of the women highlighted on the posters is Katie Dougherty. The 43-year-old struggled with addiction and was homeless for seven years until she connected with Project HOME in 2012.

“I couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired, my health was in bad shape, and I had lost custody of my kids,” she said. “I just wanted a different path.”

Now she is clean and has her own apartment. She hopes the ads featuring her will offer hope and inspiration to those who need it.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are, there’s hope. They can get where I’m at, they don’t have to feel bad about themselves. People do care,” she said.

David Brown, 62, also featured in the ads, was homeless for 25 years, from the 1990s until 2011. He couldn’t read or write, but after connecting with Project HOME he took classes and has learned how to read and do math. He also has a home and a job as a sales associate.

“People on the street deserve a second chance,” he said. — (AP)

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