One year ago, the city quietly closed the Ridge Center, its largest homeless shelter for single men and the central intake point for homeless men in Philadelphia. Today, out of the 280 beds at Ridge, only 100 have been replaced.
That’s the same 100 beds that the city already had in place when Ridge closed last year.
“Since the closure of the Ridge Avenue Center, the City has encountered persistent difficulty securing new sites for single homeless males,” Office of Supportive Housing (OSH) director Dainette Mintz says. “Since 2010, 12 sites were removed from consideration due to private owners’ unwillingness to lease to the city or their anticipation of community opposition to a single male homeless facility.”
Community opposition also sank two other proposed sites after what Mintz says was a great deal of time invested by the city: a 150-bed shelter in West Philly last year, and a 75-bed proposed site in South Philly, Mintz says. But, she points out, with extra emergency beds in place, the city has maintained a 14-percent vacancy rate, and 10 percent over the winter months.
The city plans to reuse another existing emergency-housing facility to add 75 beds by September in North Philly, and hopes to add another 50-bed site by December. The 100 beds already added were also in North Philadelphia. The city had delayed closing Ridge for six months while it unsuccessfully sought additional beds.
No sites near Center City appear to be in the running. That — paired with the mayor’s since-overturned ban on serving meals to the homeless outdoors, including on the museum-lined Ben Franklin Parkway — has left some with the sense that the administration wants to keep the homeless out of Center City and away from tourists’ view.
St. John’s Hospice at 12th and Race, which take men in through OSH, is “always full,” says Rhonda Williams, who works the front desk. They have 40 beds for men. “Every other week or so you get somebody who either moves on successfully or gets evicted,” so beds open up from time to time.
Privately run Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, not far from the old Ridge site at 13th and Vine, added about 20 beds after Ridge closed. “Those have been filling up,” says Nick Lordi, director of the men’s ministry there. “We’re serving a lot more meals than we have in the past.”
On Monday afternoon the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, lots of men said they’d stayed at Ridge in the past. No one really missed the place. “It was junkie and drug infested,” said a man who didn’t want to give his name. You couldn’t really get yourself together there, because there always was someone in there to keep you down. I’m sorry it closed but it didn’t do nobody no good.”
But, he admitted, he had no place to stay that night. He had been sleeping at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission recently, but after he had a seizure and missed returning to the shelter one night, they gave away his bed. “As far as tonight,” he said, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Benny Smith said he was hoping to get into one of the replacement beds in North Philly. He’d stayed in Ridge once, in 2008, when there was a fire in his house. “Ridge was the pits,” he says. He’d heard the shelter in North Philly had smaller rooms, more like “a nursing home.”
The men were lining up for meals from Philly Restart, which serves about 300 people on any given Monday afternoon. Adam Bruckner, who runs the program, says he’s not sure if Ridge’s closing had a major effect. The end of General Assistance, a cash welfare program from the state that also terminated last summer, had a more profound impact. “The safety net got a little smaller. There’s a crew of people who survived just barely before, who went into the opposite direction.”
One man said he has housing now, but just stopped by the Parkway to check on old friends, to see who was still living on the streets. He said maybe no one is thinking much about shelter now, but they will be.
“It’s summertime now. These guys don’t care. Try them when the winter hits.”
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