Raise the mainsail and batten down the hatches: Your own Man Overboard! returns from the deep to the troubled waters of his beloved Philadelphia! This column space had, some readers will note, been occupied for a time by the moniker “Hall Monitor,” bearing the same byline you see here. The difference? More nautical terms, more leaping off planks.
And speaking of leaps — Mayor Michael Nutter showed remarkable agility last week in his own leaps of logic before U.S. District Judge William Yohn in defending his proposed ban on outdoor “homeless feeding” (yeeeeccchh — that phrase, which is not of the mayor’s making, should be buried at sea) against a lawsuit by religious organizations who claimed the ban violated their constitutional rights.
In defending his ban, the mayor waxed philosophical, couching the city’s “no” to meals on the Parkway as part of a larger “yes” to serving the needs of the neediest. The mayor wants to bring meals indoors and provide more services, all as part of the city’s “plan to end homelessness.”
But if ending homelessness is our destination, the city doesn’t seem to have plotted much of a course lately. The mayor’s ban preceded any effort by the city to bring meals indoors, and the mayor has yet to reveal any commitment greater than encouraging the efforts already under way by groups like Broad Street Ministries and Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission to serve meals indoors.
And what of this “plan to end homelessness”? In an email, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald asserted that “the plan” was “neither a justification nor an explanation” of the ban, and pointed out that under Nutter the city has created 215 “housing first” units and 75 new entry-level housing slots, among other commendable initiatives. But lately the news has been grim. Beds and services have been cut from shelters, and the plan for replacing many of the beds lost with the closure of the city’s largest men’s shelter, the Ridge Center, hasn’t been unveiled. The mayor’s budget this year does not come close to replacing funding for services being cut by the state. And stimulus money used over the past two years for housing the homeless and preventing homelessness has now run out.
It’s not Nutter’s fault that efforts to “end homelessness” haven’t been realized. But the outdoor-meals ban — as Yohn pointed out when he issued an injunction against it — proposed to take away without giving, and to diminish without replacing.