For Philly’s hungry, the Ben Franklin Parkway will remain, for now, one of the city’s premier dining destinations, thanks to an interim agreement between the city and groups that had sued over Mayor Nutter’s ban on serving meals to the homeless outdoors. The bad news: The dinner rush only seems to be growing.
The King’s Jubilee, which serves meals Thursday nights, scrambled to meet a 30-percent increase in demand at the start of August, says director Cranford Coulter. After the initial “shock,” he’s been able to feed everyone. “We added more rice to the soup,” he says. But another group he works with, The Word in Action, had to cut down from two meal sites to one “because they run out of food.” Brian Jenkins of Chosen 300 Ministries says crowds at his outdoor meals are also swelling. His indoor dining room has also recently gone “way beyond capacity,” to up to 360 people a night.
The need doesn’t stop at the Parkway: Philabundance saw a 22.5 percent bump in calls to its Food Help Line from July to August. Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission is also seeing larger meal crowds.
Part of the problem, Coulter says, is the state’s elimination of General Assistance payments to people with addictions and disabilities, among others. Another aggravating factor, says Jenkins, was the state’s 10-percent cut to human-services budgets. People, he says, are running out of money — and some are selling their food stamps so they can pay their rent. One harbinger of desperation: The disappearance of the monthly ebb in demand early in the month, when people get their benefit checks. Recently, says Jenkins, demand has stayed high all month long. That demand has been met by a dwindling number of groups serving outdoor meals, due to the conflict with the city and new Health Department requirements, he says. “And once people stop [serving meals], to get them restarted it’s a whole other issue.”