Sister Mary Scullion, Philadelphia’s nationally renowned expert on homelessness, will attend the State of the Union address Tuesday night as a guest of Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Dwight Evans.
Evans, like other members of Congress, is allowed to bring one person to the House of Representatives to hear President Donald Trump’s speech. He said he chose Scullion, the executive director of Project HOME, Philadelphia’s leading homelessness advocacy agency, because “she has been a leader on poverty and homelessness for 25 years.”
“What better person could I bring? I see it as a way to honor her and to highlight her work.”
Saying she was grateful for the invitation, Scullion expressed hope that Congress will “see and hear and stand with the millions struggling with poverty and with homelessness to make it each day.” She added, “We need a strong federal commitment to continue to make progress on ending homelessness in Philadelphia and across our nation.”
Along with Evans, other members of the Philadelphia-area congressional delegation will have guests at the State of the Union address:
Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County invited West Philadelphia native Kevin Harden, a gun violence survivor and lawyer. Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County invited Patrick Flynn, who struggled with opioid addiction for 10 years and is now an activist. Democratic Rep. Andy Kim of Burlington County invited Melissa and Gianna DiMona of Medford Lakes, who lost two family members in separate military training accidents.
Evans noted that before the speech, he will accompany Scullion to receptions on Capitol Hill, including one held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“It will be a great opportunity for Sister Mary to interact with our leaders,” Evans said. “I’m trying to use all methods and means to highlight her efforts to address poverty and homelessness.”
Scullion’s presence in Washington, he said, will also help him shine a light on “the need to prevent cuts to programs that help the vulnerable, such as SNAP [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps] and Social Security disability benefits.”
Calling Scullion a “model to show you what’s the right way to go,” Evans praised her for providing housing for homeless youth and LGBTQ Philadelphians, and for helping homeless veterans.
Not long ago, Scullion drove Evans around low-income areas of Philadelphia to show him the work that was done, and the efforts that were still needed to help those without housing.
“What better way to reciprocate than to bring her here to Washington for the State of the Union?” he said.
Evans hosted a bipartisan roundtable last year on housing in Philadelphia with Scullion, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), and others. He also traveled to Los Angeles to view conditions of homelessness there. That city was where Trump addressed homelessness in September, bringing the issue to the forefront of national debate.
Trump said Americans are “fed up” with people living on the streets. He suggested that those who are homeless should be rounded up and warehoused.
He was quickly blasted for expressing the problem as a quality-of-life issue for those who must live and work in proximity to the homeless, and not primarily as a humanitarian crisis borne by people who have nowhere to sleep. And others voiced surprise that Trump, who has said he wants to reduce funding for food assistance and affordable housing, was being vocal about helping those under duress.
Explaining Trump’s interest in the issue, a White House spokesperson said the president had grown aware of the crisis of homelessness, “particularly in cities and states where the liberal policies are combining to dramatically increase poverty and public health risks.”
Neither Evans nor Scullion criticized Trump in interviews on Monday. Evans, in fact, referenced a Washington Post story that noted that the Trump administration may be shifting away from harsh rhetoric on homelessness to working more cooperatively with local leaders.
Scullion echoed the sentiment, saying she ultimately hopes for “bipartisan support to address these very human issues of poverty and homelessness in Philadelphia and elsewhere.”