[Hpn] For Homeless, Parkway's The Motel

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 27 Jun 2005 06:10:56 -0400


Posted on Mon, Jun. 27, 2005

For homeless, Parkway's the motel



WEARING HIS trusty gas mask, the Daily News Stinkmeister, voice of the
pee-and-poop-plagued public, was strolling through Logan Circle when he saw
hordes of homeless men converging on the Ben Franklin Parkway, turning
Center City's crown jewel into a campground of chronic despair.
Noting that there was not a single toilet in sight, the Stinkmeister
immediately issued an Urgent Barefoot Alert to the at-risk million Live 8
and "Welcome America!" visitors ready to invade the Parkway this weekend.
The city has banned Live 8's hordes from sleeping on the Parkway, but hasn't
changed its let-it-be attitude toward homeless, toiletless campgrounds
Uh oh.
The Stinkmeister watched the men deposit their garbage-bagged possessions on
favorite benches, under trees and at the bases of heroic statues, then make
their way to the Major General Galusha Pennypacker Memorial in front of
Family Court at 18th and Vine streets, where they catnapped, waiting.
Soon, a dark, unmarked SUV pulled up. Two women, one of them in nurse's
whites, emerged along with the pungent smell of hot soup. The men awoke.
After feeding a long line of 80 or 90 men, the women left as anonymously as
they had come. The men bedded down for the night.
"It's almost like they're feeding stray animals. Put some food out and the
animal will come back," said City Councilman Frank DiCicco. "They think
they're doing good, but the only thing those feeders are doing for the
homeless is perpetuating their lifestyle.
"Most of these people have mental illnesses or addictions, which is what put
them out on the street in the first place," DiCicco said. "To set up a
dining room on the street like that instead of inside a shelter that offers
social services is degrading."
The Stinkmeister saw that the Parkway soup line is the central mess hall for
the city's funkiest free campgrounds - no fees! no permits! no toilets! - at
Logan Circle, Family Court, the Youth Study Center, the Rodin Museum, City
Hall West, LOVE Park and the Vine Expressway Cloverleaf between 15th and
16th streets.
This is no flimsy flock of fly-by-night fleabag flops. These scenic but
heavily scented sanctuaries with their mattresses and makeshift tents are
spreading, not shrinking.
"The number one place for homeless people to live is on the Parkway," said
city Deputy Managing Director Rob Hess, Philadelphia's homelessness czar.
"If I was homeless, I know that's where I'd go. I'd lay next to the Logan
Circle fountains to drown out the traffic noise and get a good night's
sleep. It's safe."
The Fairmount Park District has posted 1 a.m. curfews along the city's most
beautiful boulevard, but "sleeping on the Parkway is unenforced," Hess said.
"Last year, Project HOME and other outreach groups got 60 chronically
homeless people off the streets, where they had been living for an average
of 10 years, and into housing," Hess said. "That outreach was based on
establishing trust.
"By allowing the homeless to sleep on the Parkway, we know where they are
and our outreach people can work on that trust. When homeless people are
living in abandoned buildings where we can't see them, that's when they tend
to get hurt or die."
But there's a downside to the homeless campground boom.
"When you feed the homeless on the Parkway, you create an attraction, which
builds a culture, which builds an encampment," said Paul Levy, executive
director of the nonprofit Center City District, which entices residents,
tourists and businesses by keeping downtown clean and safe.
"To encounter a homeless person on Walnut or Market, to experience a person
in that condition, is always disturbing," Levy said. "But it's much worse to
encounter 100 homeless people when you're the only one who isn't, to be
totally outnumbered by people who look threatening, including some who are
actively using drugs."
Levy said that when the Center City District polled people about what would
make them feel safer downtown, 44 percent said "decrease the number of
aggressive panhandlers" and 34 percent said "decrease the number of people
sleeping on the sidewalk."
Levy said it was "incredibly difficult to balance maintaining public order
by addressing the urinating, defecating, and other disorderly conduct while
not violating the civil rights of people who are indigent, often addicted or
mentally ill, and who need help."
As a Welcome America!/Live 8 public service, Stinkmeister presents
highlights of his 2005 Homeless Campgrounds of Philadelphia Guide:
Campground: Bed-and-Bladder Inn
Location: I-676 cloverleaf between Vine and Callowhill, 15th and 16th. Just
follow the trails of trash and empty 40-ounce malt-liquor bottles.
Stinkmeister did.
Accommodations: Nestled on the rolling hills of the fenced access ramps,
dozens of campers occupy sleep sites above the traffic. Deluxe
accommodations under thick stands of pine and deciduous trees offer shade on
even the harshest UV days: two big tents, two Beautyrest Cameo Firm double
mattresses, one Hobbit-house inside a dense leafy bush.
Facilities: Meadow of tall grasses and wildflowers for semi-private relief,
except during cloverleaf rush-hour traffic jams.
Watch-Your-Step Wilderness Trail: Sparrows, songbirds and - surprise! - a
resident covey of doves.
Campground: Fetid Fountains
Location: Logan Circle
Accommodations: Dozens of benches surround two gigantic, naked copper women,
each choking a huge goose who is spitting water at fire-hose velocity,
drowning out traffic noise and enabling campers to get a good, erotically
charged night's sleep. Most benches occupied by sundown.
Facilities: Fully clothed bathing in the Fetid Fountains, where chlorination
does NOT meet prophylactic standards, affords hidden-agenda privacy for
I-drank-too-much-iced-tea emergencies.
Campground: Dilworth Plaza Damp Camp & Whizzing Wall at the Waterfall
Location: City Hall West
Accommodations: Benches under Dilworth Plaza's maple trees. Lower-level
concourse sidewalk and benches.
Facilities: Same as accommodations, unfortunately. Shares all-city,
most-pungent-planters honors with nearby LOVE Park campgrounds in JFK Plaza.