Written by Julia Murray, Serve Philadelphia VISTA Leader

In 2022, Hannah Bressi had just moved from Wisconsin to be the new COVID-19 Recovery VISTA at the Philadelphia Department of Health and Human Services. She was ready to spend a year tackling two of the city’s major public health issues: sanitation and homelessness. You may have heard of or seen at least one of the projects Hannah worked on: the Public Sanitation Pilot, pictured above.

When she arrived in Philadelphia, Hannah quickly noticed the litter on the sidewalks and the smells in the subway, but she said the landscape of eviction wasn’t so clear. “You see people suffering from homelessness, but you don’t see the story. I had to do a lot of learning.”

Zip codes 19139 and 19121, which correspond to neighborhoods in West Philadelphia and South Philadelphia, have high rates of poverty and eviction. In 2019, Philadelphia’s City Council guaranteed free legal representation to eligible low-income tenants who live there. For her first VISTA project, Hannah wrote the Right to Counsel report, a summary of the results from this legislation.

Hannah explained, “It was supposed to be done from July to August. I simply did not have a good working knowledge of the legal field that was being discussed, and didn’t know where to turn to get answers for my questions. I brought the idea to create a glossary to my supervisor and explained that I thought it was something that would have helped me tremendously.”

The Right to Counsel Annual Report was published in January 2023. Until now, nothing of its kind was available anywhere.

“We were (and still are) figuring out the most efficient ways to collect some of the data on RTC [Right to Counsel], and what are the best ways to present the information in the report. It was a big learning opportunity not only for me, but also the City.”

Meanwhile, Hannah and her supervisor, Lauren Hoffarth, were also busy working to bring Philadelphia’s first ever public restroom facility, a project called the Public Sanitation Pilot, to 15th & Arch Street. As Hannah’s VISTA term of service wraps up, we’re excited that she is able to see her work live in Philadelphia. She shared, “I know that with whatever I do next, I definitely have the foundation set up to be a very good employee and I attribute it to this position.”

We wish Hannah and our other recent VISTA graduates all the best in their next endeavors!

Serve Philadelphia VISTA members spend one full year in various city departments building capacity for projects that reduce the impacts of poverty.