PHILADELPHIA - Jon Bon Jovi's hit tune "Who Says You Can't Go Home?" took on new meaning Tuesday as the rock star cut the ribbon on a namesake housing development for low-income residents and the formerly homeless in Philadelphia.
The 55-unit JBJ Soul Homes opened in the Francisville neighbourhood after about 18 months of construction. Bon Jovi's Soul Foundation provided the lead gift for the $16.6 million complex, which he hopes will offer tenants the support they need to get back on their feet.
"This is not a handout, it's just a hand up," Bon Jovi said in an interview before the official ceremony. "This opportunity for them is special and it's not easy to come by."
The four-story building, which was financed by public and private funds, also includes retail and office space. Residents will receive social services from Project HOME, a non-profit dedicated to ending homelessness in Philadelphia. HOME stands for Housing, Opportunities, Medical and Education.
JBJ Soul Homes is "taking our work to a whole new level," said Project HOME co-founder Sister Mary Scullion.
The grand opening of the facility, which coincides with the agency's 25th anniversary, is part of an initiative to build 500 such units across the city, Scullion said. Two developments totalling nearly 200 units are scheduled for groundbreaking over the coming year, she said.
Residents of JBJ Soul Homes will have access to basic medical care, employment training and educational classes; they are required to contribute part of their income toward rent. Several units have been set aside for young adults to help them transition out of programs for homeless teens.
One new resident, 53-year-old Anthony Gulley, said he had been sleeping in a local park when outreach workers from Project HOME began talking to him. Although resistant at first, Gulley said he eventually agreed to come in from the cold.
He stayed at a couple of shelters and attended regular counselling sessions before qualifying for JBJ Soul Homes. He now hopes to get a barber's license.
"I'm getting myself back together, and this is a big, big step," Gulley said. "When they give you the help, you have to be willing to do what they ask you to do. It's beautiful."
Bon Jovi has previously shown brotherly love to the city's less fortunate, supporting the Covenant House for homeless youths and helping to rebuild dilapidated row houses in gritty north Philadelphia.
JBJ Soul Homes functions as a small but crucial safety net "by providing shelter and an integrated array of services to so many of Philadelphia's most vulnerable youth and adults," he said.
The first JBJ Soul Home was built in Newark, N.J. Bon Jovi's foundation has also worked in Detroit, Los Angeles and Louisiana.
The New Jersey native once co-owned the Philadelphia Soul arena football team.
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