During Women's History Month 2022, Prevention Point Philadelphia featured four amazing staff members on our social media who work tirelessly to provide services, support, and human connection to Philadelphia's most marginalized people. We thank them for sharing a piece of their stories, and everything they do to advance our mission.
Miss Nancy: Fighter and Survivor
Nancy Santiago, known lovingly as “Miss Nancy” by her colleagues and participants, runs the Prevention Point Post, which currently serves over 4,000 people. She has worked here for nearly 10 years. She is the mother of five children, but so many more people think of her as a maternal figure in their lives.
“I like everything about my job. I love coming to my job. I do. I really do. I feel like there are those days when I make somebody happy that fill me with joy and like I’ve helped somebody. It’s an awesome feeling when you help that one person. You can’t help everyone, but if I did get to help that one person, I’m happy.
I’m a people person. It’s in me. I’ve always, always — even when I didn’t work at Prevention Point — I was always helping whoever needed it. Whether it be a coworker or customer service… I love it. I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I have to retire! I’m not thinking about that right now. I’m gonna be here another 20 years. Make it thirty.
Our women participants, they deal with a lot out there. They have to be stronger than the guys out there. I couldn’t even imagine what they go through, how they gotta give that strong look. Because the man always wants to overpower the woman… but I think we are much stronger than a man.
Me as a mother, I had five children, and I worked when my kids were small… me working, coming home, housekeeping, the laundry, the husband… I’m a tough one. I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor. I know what it is to go through hard times. I’ve never done drugs, smoked or drank, but I’ve had to survive after things that have happened to me in my life. I’m a strong little cookie right here. I am.”
Ariell: A Kind, Curious, and Helping Heart
Ariell Robinson is the Morning Site Supervisor at our emergency shelter, Beacon House. Ariell has been at PPP for three years, and is beloved by our community for her patience, caring and understanding nature, and commitment to our mission. Her colleagues also say that she is extremely well-connected with our participants, and effective in managing their needs while holding them accountable to their actions or personal plans.
“It’s a little hectic in the morning because you have to get our 60 residents started. You have to understand that everyone doesn’t wake up on the good side of the bed because they need what they need to get the day started. You have to come in with a clear head, understanding that this is the worst part of the day for them – getting up, and then having to relive pain and trauma all over again, and then doing whatever they need to do to get well.
I am a CNA. When I lost my mom, I needed a break from the death. I lost my mom and then two weeks later I put my head down and just went to work. But then my client who I was with for a year passed away. When I went to go check her, she was gone. I had just had to identify my mother’s body and then I found my client. They gave me a week off of work and then they gave me someone else. Three months later, she also passed. My brain was wrapped up in too much death.
It was the residents that made me stay at Prevention Point. It was realizing that this is my tribe.
I’m in recovery myself. I have 16 years clean. So I know this life, but I know from my perspective. I smoked crack. When my brain told me that 'Your look is gone, and sweetie you need to get it together,' then that’s what I needed to do. It was easy for me to stop. It was harder to stay clean. I would be good for six months and then have an all-nighter. And then I’d be good for three months and then have a two-nighter. It went off and on like that for the first year and then after a year I stopped. I guess I have 15 years, but I always add that extra year to make it sound better!
It was the residents that made me stay at Prevention Point. It was realizing that this is my tribe. Yeah, it’s a group of straight people and I worried I might feel uncomfortable because I had never stepped out of the LGBT realm. Everything was there and I knew I was safe. I was crossing over into the heterosexual world, so to me it’s like, if you put yourself out there to help, will they accept you?
Once I realized that who I am wasn’t a problem, then I could open up and be my true self. Was I homeless? Five years. So when I say this is my tribe, this is my tribe. I found where I needed to be. I understand them because I will always be one of them. I am always going to be in recovery, I don’t care how well I put it together... I am here to help. I am here to encourage. I am here not to beat you with recovery but lead you in a path where maybe instead of taking four shots today you only take two. You might not see a difference, but I am applauding you!
I have a helping heart. I cover it sometimes — not saying that I was always good, because I wasn’t — but because my life is hard.
I know everyone in this building on a personal level. Sweetie, I laid on the ground for five years with a Barney blanket and a pillow. I understand exactly what’s going on… Every morning as I’m walking through I have general conversations with each and every single person that is awake. You can walk through this building in like 10 minutes but it takes me at least an hour because I literally stop and laugh and talk and joke and exchange stories.
I feel home here. In society, I am them. The person who is looked down on, the one no one cares about, the one that can easily be erased and set to the side. I’m trans. It’s just the way of life. So I understand them more than they know.
I have a helping heart. I cover it sometimes — not saying that I was always good, because I wasn’t — but because my life is hard. So you have to hide the nice person and create this shell so that no one can penetrate and ruin my soul. I’m a very sweet person, but the world doesn’t accept this sweet person so sometimes you have to build a shield. I got the sharp wit, and I got the comebacks, trust me I got them quicker than you can spit them because this is what I had to go through my whole life.
For my participants, a challenge they have is realizing their own worth. To many of the female participants, because they’ve done this for so long, their self-worth is only equal to the bag. And the bag is only five dollars. You are more than the five-dollar bag. You are so much more. You’re a queen in all actuality, you just need to put your crown on and understand that... But getting your self-worth in order comes with time, it comes with the steps that you make.
I always wanted to be a forensic scientist, but back in my day I wasn’t allowed. Who I was couldn’t sit in the classroom and be accepted. I had to go to the school board to be accepted into school. I am the first transgender women to go to school legally as my gender in Philadelphia. I had to go to the courthouse and they kept me out of school for a year. They didn’t know where to put me and they took me to all these different schools. They thought that I was having behavior programs because I wanted to be a girl. They were sending me to all-boy disciplinary schools as a girl in the early 90s.
The courts finally decided that they needed to let this child go to school: they sent me to a school up here in the Northeast called Shallcross where they had boys’ classes and girls’ classes. They allowed me to go to this school as a girl and they registered me with my girl name and my last name, and then my other name in parenthesis. I stayed there and it was fine, and they used my correct name.
Prevention Point is the first job I’ve had where I see inclusion.
I think that my helping nature came from all the refusals of being seen as a human. Maybe I felt that if I just reached out and helped that people would see me as human and accept me just a little bit because I have a good spirit. Wow. Did I just say that? Well it’s the truth.
Prevention Point is the first job I’ve had where I see inclusion. I just started wearing my hair out and my makeup on. At other jobs everyone would see me in my bonnet and sweat-clothes because I felt as though I needed to blend in. I don’t have that problem at this job… we have trans women on staff, non-conforming staff, trans men... I feel comfortable.
I want people to take time to realize that, yes, our participants may be in your neighborhood, but if you take the time to say 'hello' you’ll realize that these people are not bad. Step back and realize that everyone is human and everyone needs respect. When I come to Beacon House everyone in here is called 'Miss Laura' or 'Mr. Chris' because they walk out this door and get disrespected all day. They’re already beat down. So I like to lift them up in the morning. A little bit of respect a day can go a long way.”
Naomi: Passionate Housing Advocate
Naomi Wildflower is Prevention Point Philadelphia’s Housing Coordinator, and has been working with us for three years. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she has lived and worked in Egypt, India, and of course Philadelphia. Naomi is a proud immigrant, harm reductionist, mother, and Kensington resident.
“Part of my interest in working at Prevention Point in the homeless services department was that, in my experience working in homeless services in Philly, it came up over and over again that if someone was actively using drugs there was always a barrier in place preventing them from succeeding — to get their own apartment or access permanent housing. There are a lot of implicit and explicit expectations around sobriety in permanent housing options in Philadelphia. I was just getting tired of feeling like I had to encourage people to stop using drugs when that wasn’t their goal.
I was intrigued that there was a housing case manager position open at Prevention Point to help people who were actively using drugs meet their goals around housing, stability, and wellness. Obviously, we still meet a lot of similar housing barriers, where people are offered these housing opportunities and they’re expected not to be using or to be the picture of recovery. It’s still a struggle but I wanted to be a part of a harm reduction agency while lending my expertise around homelessness and housing.
I supervise a team of three housing case managers. We help people apply for housing opportunities, get identification, apply for benefits, and connect to services in Prevention Point’s main building. If people have a housing voucher, we help them look for units, and we accompany people to housing appointments. A lot of my day is managing our openings, so if there is an open bed, I liaise with homeless outreach to see who they can find to bring in.
We also bring a lot of services to Beacon House like HIV and Hep C testing. We have a STEP Clinic here (for Medication for Opioid Use Disorder), and the Reproductive Health Care program comes here as well. We try to bring as many services as we can to people here while they’re in the shelter and help them take care of themselves and get ready to live on their own.
The streets are a microcosm of the world. It’s harder to be a female-identifying person in the world, and I think those difficulties are magnified.
One of the most difficult things about my job is seeing just how broken the system is in regards to housing for people who are experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia—how few resources there are, and how the resources that are out there are sometimes low quality. Right now there are 200 people that have been referred to Beacon House, and we have zero open beds. Once people are living here, there are even fewer opportunities for them to move on to their own apartment. The scarcity of resources is heartbreaking.
Generally it’s a lot harder to be out on the streets in Kensington as a female-identifying person. A lot of our folks come in as a couple, but when we ask them one-on-one, a lot of our female-identifying residents don’t actually want permanent housing with their partner. I think there are a lot of relationships that female-identifying people feel like they have to enter to feel safe. That’s a really tough position to be in.
The streets are a microcosm of the world. It’s harder to be a female-identifying person in the world, and I think those difficulties are magnified. Think about getting your period. That’s really difficult when you live on the streets. Or having the capacity to get pregnant—that is just a huge and ever-present issue, especially if you are doing sex work.
What is rewarding is seeing our residents move on to their own apartment, and seeing them make choices for themselves—for their health and safety—and grow and advocate for themselves.
I like being able to see the amazing connections that my team has with their participants.
I think I have a capacity for systems and documentation. However broken the housing system is, I have a good grasp of it and what is required. At Prevention Point, I have an amazing opportunity to leverage that for our participants who don’t receive a lot of the same opportunities that other homeless populations might.
I like being able to see the amazing connections that my team has with their participants. My case managers foster pretty in-depth relationships with their participants, and develop a caring and trusting relationship to work on goals together. It’s really cool to witness.
And a lot of our participants are just really funny! They make me laugh. They have interesting stories to share with me and it is an amazing thing to gain their trust. One cool thing about Beacon House is that we have so many different kinds of people living here — different ages, genders, life experiences and upbringings… it’s such a diverse place. It’s fun to get to know everybody.
There are a lot of Prevention Point staff, myself included, who love Kensington, live in this neighborhood, and want to make it better. And part of the way we do that is by working at Prevention Point.”
Nabori Rosario: Confidante, Motivator, Listener
Nabori Rosario is the Phlebotomist with the HCV and PrEP Clinics at Prevention Point Philadelphia and the mother of three children who are 24, 21, and 17 years old. Nabori has come a long way after surviving substance use disorder as a teenager.
“I started visiting Prevention Point 10 years ago when they were still on Lehigh Ave. I worked at Congreso for the HIV program there and we had a lot of referrals from PPP. Then I worked at Philadelphia FIGHT with Dr. Laura Bamford. I would come to Kensington once or twice a week to help with phlebotomy and Hep C. That’s how I started working more hands-on with patients for the three years prior to the pandemic.
At FIGHT I worked with a lot of patients that were in recovery. Transitioning from working with people in recovery to people who are still actively using is a little challenging because of the dehydration, they’re not eating, the scar tissue. Working with our population, there are certain things that you normally wouldn’t do as a phlebotomist that you have to do in order to obtain the blood work. If the client only has scar tissue, that is what you have to go with. I take blood from feet, arms, armpits, wherever I can to get them services. I have to work around their wounds. From working in Center City to coming to Kensington, the environment and population are different.
I knew that PPP was where I needed to be.
My first week here was kind of hard. But my second week, I got to meet people who have been through Hep C treatment with us and were successful! I needed that! I met people here that had completed their treatment and no longer came here for services. These patients were no longer using, or they were on buprenorphine or suboxone. That really encouraged me! They are productive, they’re working, they have housing. It gave me the reinforcement that people benefit from our services.
I knew that PPP was where I needed to be. I’d been trying to get here for three years. When the time came, I was ready. I carry around my mug shots. I use them to share my story with patients. I am from Kensington. I got high in Kensington. I got incarcerated in Kensington when I was a young 15-year-old.
Because I’ve been in the streets, because it’s touched my life, I just want the person who is sitting there getting their blood work done to know how important they are.
My dad was addicted to heroin. He’s no longer using, by the grace of God. But about a year and a half ago I lost my little brother. He used to get services here. He overdosed. I knew after that, that I had to work here. The people that found him — he was in a neighbors’ apartment — they had Narcan but they didn’t know how to use it. I felt like I had to do something.
Because I’ve been in the streets, because it’s touched my life, I just want the person who is sitting there getting their blood work done to know how important they are. I have to give what was given to me. It’s not about phlebotomy. I can do phlebotomy anywhere. It’s important for them to know how important they are. Because they are. It was an act of kindness that changed my behavior and I’m going to give it to someone else. You understand? This work isn’t easy but it is so worth it.
I constantly tell participants that I am one decision away from the tables turning. I’m no better than anyone else. My brother was fine. And then he used and he died.
My mission is: I’m here, I work, I love on people and let people know that they are important. And treat people with respect; that goes a long way. Treat people like human beings. If they say addiction is a disease, then why are they getting persecuted?
I’m passionate and I’m here and I just love on people. I do the phlebotomy part because it’s my job, but my real job is to love on people. And not even just the patients but the staff too. You have to have a heart to do this. Death can happen. It can happen like this [snaps fingers]. One bad move. One bad day. One bad decision. I try to tell our staff, if you’re not taking care of yourself, how are you going to give your best to anyone else? What are you doing for you?
What we’ve all been through cannot be in vain. I refuse. I refuse that my children suffer seeing all of this and for me not to make a difference. And if I don’t, at least they know I tried. It’s very personal.
I believe everybody in here brings something and it fits perfectly. I can’t do this alone.
I had this bad anxiety at the beginning of the pandemic. I got panic attacks. One day I said, “God, something gotta give” and I just started praying, meditating, and going to the gym. I asked myself, “what’s good for me?” I cut off social media for awhile. I realized that the news was playing a part. And then there’s this powerlessness. What do we do with that? I have no control over the pandemic so why am I feeding this? So I said, “Okay God you’re going to take care of the things I can’t, and these are the things that I can take care of.” These are my health, how I start my day, how I perceive things. I wake up at 4:30 and go to the gym in the morning. I don’t rush myself to get ready for work. I’m in bed by 9 or 10 at night and make sure I have seven to eight hours of sleep. I just recently stopped smoking because I have bronchitis! I’m just trying to find this healthy way of living because what we used to do, we can’t do no more.
I volunteer at Womxn’s Night here. It’s hard for women with the sex work, the stories they share. Sometimes they come to Prevention Point after a bad date but they don’t want to go to the cops. Or they are hurt but don’t want to get medical help. And they’ll just go right back out there to work… but there is never any judgement. I know that you’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, but I always tell them, “I’m here for you.” Those conversations can get intense. Especially in the PrEP program… you have to give them that safe space.
Prevention Point was once just an idea and look at it now. It’s only going to get better. I love what I do and I’m glad to be here. It’s been a hard month but it’s been the realest month. I believe everybody in here brings something and it fits perfectly. I can’t do this alone. We all fit. We all play a part. I wouldn’t want to be at any other place."