When the Nutter administration issued a ban this spring on serving meals to the homeless on public land, citing a need for both sanitary facilities and dignity, critics saw an ulterior motive: a desire to clear the homeless, and the church groups who’ve long brought them food there, off the newly gussied-up Ben Franklin Parkway.
So, city representatives’ reaction to the latest bold idea presented to them by homeless-feeding groups — an indoor-outdoor homeless café, right on the Parkway near the Free Library and Family Court buildings, with all the class of the stylish new Milk & Honey café just down the road — was not surprising.
“There was kind of a silence,” laughs Pastor Brian Jenkins of Chosen 300 Ministries.
The backdrop for the conversation was the first meeting between the city and groups that had sued over the ban, part of an agreement approved by federal District Court Judge William Yohn Jr.
Cranford Joseph Coulter of the King’s Jubilee says the meeting was “very disappointing.” “The mayor told us his goal was to end homelessness,” Coulter says. Yet, the city was “talking about soup kitchens, and I was talking about overhauling the system.”
Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald says the meeting “was productive. The goal is to improve the lines of communication” and to create a coordinating body on fighting hunger.
But Chosen 300, for one, could use more immediate help. The only city assistance it’s ever gotten was $75,000 in seed money, under Mayor John Street, to build its highly utilized Spring Garden Street facility. Jenkins’ work to open up yet another dining hall, in West Philadelphia, has ground nearly to a halt for want of $160,000 to buy needed mechanical systems. Donations have dropped off by $150,000 from last year, while demand for meals has soared, sending Jenkins and affiliated church groups scrambling.
Jenkins is confident that “we can come up with solutions, but they cost money. And there has to be some involvement by the city. The nonprofit sector cannot carry the entire load.”
To that end, though, no follow-up meeting date was set, Coulter says. “They’ll call us, I guess.”
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