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Our Services Approches

Our Service Approaches

Since our founding over three decades ago, SELF has led the way in developing effective programming for Philadelphia’s homeless. We continue to identify innovative solutions to end homelessness and improve the delivery of services within the city’s emergency shelter system.​

Social Determinants
Social Determinants of Health

SELF programs use a comprehensive public health approach that takes into consideration the effects of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) on overall participant outcome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines SDOH as conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. Some of the factors that affect the health risk and outcomes include:


  • Access to medical care

  • Early childhood social and physical environment, including childcare

  • Education and health literacy

  • Ethnicity and cultural orientation

  • Familial and other social support

  • Gender

  • Housing and transportation resources

  • Neighborhood safety and recreational facilities

  • Occupation and job security

  • Other social stressors, such as exposure to violence and other adverse factors in the home environment

  • Sexual identification

  • Socioeconomic status

  • Spiritual/religious values


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Low Barrier

SELF uses a balanced low barrier approach as the foundation of its emergency housing programs to meet our participants where they are and to improve outcomes for each participant. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the low barrier approach ensures immediate and easy access to shelter by eliminating income and sobriety requirements and other policies that make it difficult for individuals to enter shelter, stay in shelter, or access supportive services.


SELF’s Low Barrier Approach…

  • Participants must complete a program orientation with a SELF team member, but are  not denied service because of identification, sobriety or income issues.

  • Although sobriety is not required, no drug and alcohol use and/or paraphernalia is allowed at any SELF program. Participants experiencing drug and/or alcohol challenges are strongly encouraged to seek appropriate treatment programs.

  • Participants work individually with an assigned case manager to develop an individualized housing plan that includes benchmarks. Participants must actively participate. The goal is to move participants from emergency housing to permanent housing quickly.

  • Participants are strongly encouraged to participate in external and internal supportive service programs but are not required.

  • Participants are strongly encouraged to participate in the SELF savings program to support successful transition from emergency housing to permanent housing but are not required.

  • Participants deemed to be a health and safety risks to themselves, other participants and/or SELF team members as a result of behavior health and/or physical health challenges or drug and/or alcohol use, are  directed to appropriate external services or to the Office of Homeless Services centralized intake for an appropriate placement.

  • Service animals are accommodated based on ADA guidance.


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Housing First

Housing First provides households at risk of or experiencing homelessness housing quickly without preconditions or service participation requirements. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Housing First, “prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.”

SELF uses the basic elements of Housing First to implement a Housing Focused approach. Housing Focused is when assistance provided to households at risk of or experiencing homelessness is focused on moving to and maintaining permanent housing.

In this way, SELF supports housing as a basic right and believes that some level of acuity must be used to support the appropriate participant focused housing choice.  These choices can range from diversion and prevention support to keep individuals and families living in their own homes, to emergency housing (shelter), to permanent supportive independent or shared housing and permanent housing. SELF’s approach relies on transformational engagement with participants to help determine the appropriate housing response.  We believe that “one size does not fit all” given the diversity of participants and participant needs. By recognizing the unique experiences of our participants along with our housing focused approach, SELF believes our organizational goal of returning transformed participants to families and communities will be best received thus creating the much-needed public support and political will to support programs for those at risk and/or experiencing homelessness.

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Person Centered - Trauma Informed Care

The National Coalition for the Homeless describes Trauma Informed Care (TIC) as an overarching structure and treatment attitude that emphasizes understanding, compassion, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma Informed Care takes into account physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both clients and providers, and provides tools to empower individuals on the pathway to stability.


Similarly, SAMHSA’s indicates, “A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  • Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;

  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;

  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and

  • Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization."


At SELF, we use a trauma-informed approach that is respectful, dignified, safe, and relies on participant choice and active participation is honored and utilized. In addition:


  • Following the participant’s lead, the individual needs of the participant are identified in collaboration with the SELF case manager and then it is determined how best to provide assistance through coordination of internal and external program services and community resources.

  • The SELF team works with the participant to meet their basic needs in a coordinated manner, remembering that we have the tools, but the participant holds the plan.

  • A partnership exists between the participant and SELF as demonstrated through direct participant involvement in all aspects of their individual housing plan and case management planning decisions.


For More Information:  

For More Information:



Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a public health strategy that was developed initially for adults with substance abuse problems for whom abstinence was not feasible. Harm reduction approaches have been effective in reducing morbidity and mortality in these adult populations. In recent years, harm reduction has been successfully applied to sexual health education in an attempt to reduce both teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Programs using a harm reduction philosophy have also successfully lowered risky alcohol use. The target patient population and the context in which harm reduction strategies are delivered influence the specific interventions used. Health care practitioners (HCPs) who provide care to adolescents should be aware of and familiar with the types of harm reduction strategies aimed at reducing the potential risks associated with normative adolescent health behaviors.

Program Partners

SELF works with over 50 Program Partners (off and onsite, outside agencies), who help us to ensure our program participants have access and receive the services and resources they need to transform their lives.  Each uncontracted Program Party signs an MOU that delineates expectation on the part of both parties and establishes key metrics which we use to evaluate the effectiveness of the program or invention at the end of the term.


Housing First
Harm Reduction
Program Partners
Person Centered
Low Barrier
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