Video: Nun a champion for the homeless

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/16/2005 1:29:00 PM ET 2005-11-16T18:29:00

If you think one person can't really make a difference, just watch the nun who won't take “no” for an answer. Her name is Sister Mary. Twenty years ago, Sister Mary Scullion decided to find everyone living on the streets of Philadelphia a home.

“We can't walk by people on the street and think that's OK,” she says. “It’s not OK. It degrades me as well as the person who's on the street.”

In fact, Project H.O.M.E., the organization she founded, has found shelter for thousands and helped reduce the city's chronic homeless population by half.

“She's unusually genuine,” says Robert Hess, Philadelphia's deputy managing director for special needs housing. “She's the real deal. She's the person who, when you look in the mirror, you want to see.”

A lot of Sister Mary's work is one-on-one and face-to-face. But many people in Philadelphia will tell you she has changed the way the city thinks about what it means to be homeless. She's led protests that opened city shelters and changed laws that made sleeping on the streets a crime. Now, when police get a call about a homeless person, they call Sister Mary for help.

Outreach workers, like Gayle Evans, lead Sister Mary's teams.

“She goes to bed at night thinking about how she's going to advocate for the homeless tomorrow morning,” says Evans.

Sister Mary lives in a neighborhood filled with guns and drugs — a neighborhood where Project H.O.M.E. is turning abandoned buildings into affordable homes for people like Tanya Clanton and her three children, who have Sister Mary to thank.

“She's always willing to help no matter what the situation,” says Clanton.

Sister Mary has helped bring a multi-million dollar digital learning center to the community. Education, she says, is the key to preventing homelessness. 

“Once you know the kids in this community,” she says, “it's impossible to give up, because there's so much life and talent and goodness and strength.”

Philadelphia recently set a goal of ending homelessness in the next 10 years. A nun, who thought of that a long time ago, will be showing the way.

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