The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Northwest Philadelphia is a major volunteer-fueled undertaking.

But it isn’t the first or only volunteer network to serve the homeless; 28 years ago, 11 congregations came together in Union County, New Jersey, to form this type of space-sharing homeless shelter.

Since then, the number of congregations taking part in such efforts has swollen to more than 5,000 in 41 states.  The national umbrella group for these initiatives is known as Family Promise.

The Northwest Philadelphia network became a Family Promise affiliate in 1991, and since joining, by its count, it has moved 275 families from homelessness to stability.

The network includes more than 30 congregations from the area (see list below) that take turns hosting the network's shelter program, or supplying volunteers.

The Northwest Philadelphia Network offers the basics that any good homeless shelter should – a roof, a bed, a meal. But the Network takes it a few steps further. The focus is on family: The program accommodates intact couples, single father households, adolescent boys, and single women with children. Each family gets a private room. Families have access to phones, computers, a psychologist and a case manager.

Homeless families have to work for their success, though. Classes in budgeting, parenting and stress-management are mandatory. There are in and out curfews. Statistics suggest the approach works: According to the network’s website, 92 percent of families that go through its program don’t return to shelters.

For an audio report and many images of what a typical night in a network shelter is like, watch the audio slideshow below. (Photography by Peter Tobia)

Want to get involved? The Network is hosting its annual benefit, the Empty Bowl Dinner, this Thursday, Nov. 18, at Chestnut Hill College. 

Click here for details on the Empty Bowl Dinner, here for the Network’s website.

Here are the congregations that support the Interfaith Hospitality Network:

Host Congregations

  • Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting
  • First Presbyterian Church, Germantown
  • First United Methodist Church, Germantown
  • Flourtown Presbyterian Church
  • Germantown Jewish Centre
  • Germantown Mennonite Church
  • Germantown Seventh Day Adventist Church
  • Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, Mount Airy
  • Mishkan Shalom, Manayunk
  • New Covenant Church, Mount Airy
  • Oak Lane Presbyterian Church
  • St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill
  • St Timothy’s Episcopal Church,
  • Second Baptist Church of Germantown
  • Unitarian Society of Germantown

Co-Host Congregations

  • Abington Friends Meeting
  • Annunciation Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church
  • Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, Chestnut Hill
  • Church of the Good Shepherd
  • Enon Tabernacle Church, Cedarbrook
  • Falls of Schuykill Presbyterian Church
  • First Presbyterian Church, Springfield
  • Germantown Community Presbyterian Church
  • Germantown Friends Meeting
  • Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church, Mt. Airy
  • Jewish Children’s Folkshul
  • Leverington Presbyterian Church, Roxborough
  • Mt. Airy Presbyterian Church
  • Our Mother of Consolation Catholic Church, Chestnut Hill
  • Roxborough Presbyterian Church
  • St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill
  • Summit Presbyterian Church, Mt. Airy

Other Supporting Congregations

  • Cedar Park Presbyterian Church, West Oak Lane
  • Christ Church - St. Michael's
  • Trinity Lutheran Church

Seminary Supporters

  • Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
  • Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

School & University Supporters

  • Arcadia University
  • Chestnut Hill College
  • William Penn Charter School