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Women’s Safe Haven Is Sold in Philly

July 7, 2001

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Opal Collins took refuge at ``The Lucy″ after a divorce ended her 25-year marriage. She felt so safe in the low-rent downtown Philadelphia women’s home that she stayed for 18 years.

But now Collins, 64, and nearly 150 other women are being forced to leave the Lucy Eaton Smith Residency. The 11-story, 75-year-old building in one of the city’s most upscale neighborhoods is being sold.

Project Home, a non-profit housing organization, is buying the building from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci, which has owned and run The Lucy since 1952.

The new owner plans a multi-million-dollar renovation that will take 15 to 18 months, and when renovations are complete, even current residents will have to apply to move back in.

That leaves the women searching for new places to stay, and they likely won’t find better location or rent: rooms range from $48 to $65 a week. More important, though, the women must leave a supportive community.

``I wouldn’t be able to afford to live inside the city and go to school at the same time if it wasn’t for this place. It was a good choice,″ said Collins, an Ohio native who, during her stay, earned a college degree and became a social worker. ``The most I learned about independence was right here in this building.″

But funding lapses have taken their toll on the high-rise. Collins remembers when 12 nuns worked in the building. Now there are two.

``Our goal has been to have the ministry of women continue beyond today,″ said Sister Ann Lythgoe, director of personnel and ministry for the Dominican Sisters. ``So we were trying to find a way to sell the place to someone who would serve women in a way we have been doing for quite some time.″

The Dominican nuns turned to Sister Margaret Scullion, an advocate for the homeless who co-founded Project Home and who has helped run the Lucy for 27 years.

Before Project Home can take over, the building needs several improvements, including making it handicap accessible, upgrades in its electrical wiring and installation of a sprinkler systems. The Spartan rooms, which offer a bed, desk and dresser drawers, will get telephone lines and private baths.

Scullion said it would be too dangerous to make the renovations with residents still living in the building. So, the women must move by Oct. 1.

What some residents say they will miss most is the security that the building and its motherly nuns have provided.

``It has almost been like being in a cocoon,″ Collins said.

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