[Hpn] Sept. 11 fallout may include more homeless;Philadelphia Inquirer;10/15/01
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 15 Oct 2001 09:34:01 -0400
Monday, October 15, 2001
Philadelphia Inquirer <http://inq.philly.com>
Local News section
Sept. 11 fallout may include more homeless
By Elisa Ung
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The number of people sleeping on Center City streets is rising and city
officials and homeless-advocacy groups say the problem could be aggravated
by economic uncertainties accompanying the recent terrorist attacks.
The staggering business disruptions caused by the Sept. 11 attacks have
resulted in thousands of new unemployment claims and have sunk an already
shaky job market even deeper, city officials said.
In addition, thousands of local families could be thrown off welfare next
year if the state enforces its five-year limit on benefits.
"If we continue to see layoffs, if the economy continues to go south and
jobs become much harder to find, and if people in our shelter system begin
to compete with folks who are just being laid off in the job market - then
it won't bode well for us," said Robert Hess, city deputy managing director
of special-needs housing.
According to figures from Project HOME, which contracts with the city to
provide outreach services, police counted 824 people sleeping on the street
on a given night in Center City in the summer of 1997 - an all-time high.
A controversial sidewalk-behavior ordinance, enacted in 1999, brought money
and outreach resources. The number of people on Center City streets
declined; Project HOME figures showed a low of 77 counted on one night in
early 2000, and only 245 in the fall.
This year, however, the numbers increased to 126 in the early months and 306
in September, and outreach workers have reported seeing newer and younger
faces on the streets.
Project HOME plans to conduct a survey later this week to interview all
those who sleep on Center City streets to find out why the numbers are
rising. The numbers typically represent only about a tenth of the city's
total homeless population.
"Homelessness is symptomatic of deeper societal problems," said Sister Mary
Scullion, executive director of Project HOME. "When the economy took a
deeper turn, it's not unexpected that the numbers of people who are homeless
Christine Verrier, director of the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs
Coalition's Blueprint to End Homelessness, said: "I fear our resources are
going to be narrowing when the need's going to be widening."
City officials say up to 8,500 Philadelphia families face losing cash
assistance when their five-year welfare limit runs out between March and
July of next year. Advocates are pushing for reprieves, warning that the
deadline could wreak havoc for those families.
Last week, the city began meeting with advocates for the homeless to develop
strategies to combat the problem. The focus, Hess said, has been on finding
permanent housing and reducing the average length of time spent in shelters,
currently about four months.
This fiscal year, the city cut the emergency-shelter budget by about 10
percent - roughly $1 million - and redirected the money to provide case
managers for families who move to permanent housing, Hess said.
The city is also awaiting the start of a rigorous program for single men
with a history of substance-abuse problems who will work for wages, pay
rent, save money, and submit to regular drug tests.
According to administrators of the program, which is known as Ready, Willing
and Able, 63 percent of its participants complete the program within 13
months. Of that number, 85 percent keep full-time work, remain drug-free,
and are in unsubsidized housing 18 months later.
"It's an impressive success rate," Hess said of the program, which began in
New York and has since spread to other cities. Its 70-bed Philadelphia
facility is scheduled to open later this month, at 1211 Bainbridge St., with
$1.1 million in city funding. Many of the participants will work in
Fairmount Park, learning horticulture-training programs.
Project HOME plans to open eight four-bedroom apartments in the 2700 block
of Diamond Street later this month, the second phase of a three-part $13.7
million project to address the needs of 75 formerly homeless families.
"There's intense energy building in the community," Hess said, "a real
awareness and concern for people experiencing homelessness."
Hess has headed the Street administration's homelessness project for seven
months, though his background has largely been in advocacy. Injured in a
1979 paratrooper-training accident after five years in the Army, he took a
job in a thrift shop run by the nonprofit Disabled American Veterans.
He wound up running the thrift shop and later, the organization's economic
programs. Most recently, Hess was head of the Center for Poverty Solutions,
a nonprofit homeless-advocacy group in his native Baltimore.
When recruited to lead Philadelphia's homeless programs, Hess conceded that
he was skeptical of the city's sidewalk-behavior ordinance, which bans
aggressive panhandling and sitting or lying on sidewalks.
"I was afraid police would use heavy-handed tactics," Hess said. "What it
[the ordinance] really did was create new kinds of outreach teams to do new
kinds of interventions."
Philadelphia Police Sgt. Michael Taylor of the Ninth District in Center City
says only two people have been arrested under the ordinance, both of whom
were sitting together on the Ben Franklin Parkway in early 2000. Police
believe neither was homeless, and charges were eventually dropped.
A man who identified himself as Rick Rude, 34, who says he has lived on the
street for about five years, said the ordinance has forced him to get
smarter about where he sleeps. Once a fixture on a bench near City Hall, he
has moved several blocks north.
"Since they had that crackdown, more people are starting to come into
shelters. Then again, you've got your diehards," said Rude, waiting for a
shower last week at the day center run by the Philadelphia Committee to End
At its headquarters at 802 N. Broad St., the nonprofit agency provides
showers, clean clothes and phone calls for adults.
Center officials say the city's numbers are not necessarily reliable. They
say they have seen no notable increase in people coming in off the streets,
but then again, they said, they don't keep count - they're more interested
in the issues behind the steady stream of people shuffling in.
Later this month, the center plans to issue its own report with strategies
for ending homelessness in the next decade.
"We don't believe expansion of the system would end homelessness," deputy
director Roosevelt Darby said. "We're working toward ending this problem,
not managing it."
A man who identified himself only as Val said he tried shelters on several
occasions. Val, who gave his age as 49, said he had been sleeping on or
around the Parkway since a fire destroyed his home in Logan three months
Wrapped in blankets on a bench in front of the Free Library last week, his
breath visible in the chilly night, he said he was happier on the street
than in shelters.
"They said they can't put you up if you don't have a drug problem. Why don't
they have a shelter for guys like me, who are just down on their luck, don't
have no drug problems?
"The guys showed me how to survive out here. . . . This is just a temporary
thing. Things will work out for me."
Elisa Ung's e-mail address is email@example.com.
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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