It is, in essence, the opposite of what many homeless people associate with the city's formal homeless structures, especially its shelters, which have seen basic services like case management cut over the last few years.
"Our core business is not shelter," Golderer says. "Our core business is hospitality."
The first part of Golderer's big plan is to drastically increase capacity at Broad Street Ministry in order to reach that goal of nine meals per week, which will happen in part by bringing other groups into the fold. Since the mayor's ban was announced, Golderer's reached out to some 20 groups that had been serving meals outdoors and invited them to use BSM's space and facilities. At least two appear ready to partner up to do a Saturday meal. He's also explicit about his desire to tap wealthy neighbors — with whom he seems to be making inroads — to help out.
"This isn't Newark — this isn't a city where there simply is no money anywhere," he says, remarking on the irony of scrounging for deodorant across the street from the fabulously expensive glass walls of the Kimmel Center.
The second part of his plan is a little more complicated. Essentially, Golderer is trying to position himself between two groups of people who care deeply about the homeless, but who operate worlds apart.
On the one hand, there are people like the Chicken Lady, a woman with a big heart and a remarkable gift for making a particular dish: spicy pineapple chicken. As she once explained to Golderer, one day God told her to feed people.
"So she told her church to fill freezers with pineapple chicken," he says. "She bought an industrial grill. And she drove it all to the Parkway."
Word got out. A huge line formed — and fights broke out. "And here she was, doing God's work and watching people brutalize each other."
It's a critique of the outdoor "feeding" model (Golderer detests the term) that's shared by many, not least the nonprofits and institutions that serve the homeless full-time. They're the other side of the divide Golderer hopes to bridge — the Parkway crowd and institutions like the Bethesda Project and Project H.O.M.E. sit on the same spectrum, but on opposite ends.
"Any advocate of the homeless is not in favor of those people feeding on the Parkway," asserts Angelo Sgro, former director of the Bethesda Project, now retired. "Because it gives almost no chance to change things for anybody."
Crucial to Nutter's announcement of the ban on Parkway meals was the presence by his side of Sister Mary Scullion, founder of the nonprofit Project H.O.M.E. and something of a homegrown prophet when it comes to homelessness in Philly. After the announcement, Scullion told CP that her support for the mayor's ban was, essentially, conditional on the mayor's offering more resources for the homeless. Scullion, who once handed out sandwiches herself, wants to see energy and resources committed where she says they matter most: "The single most important thing for ending homelessness today is housing," she says. Whether homeless people eat meals outside on the Parkway or, as the mayor has proposed, at a temporary site on City Hall's construction-clogged apron is profoundly less important to her than the fact that they are homeless to begin with.
Many nonprofit service agencies hold city contracts to run shelters and provide other direct services. The thing is, those institutions simply don't fill all the gaps. The city's shelter system is often despised by those who have to live in it, especially single men. Options, particularly for those at the beginning of the long process of moving beyond basic shelter to other services, are extremely limited.
"There are some people who will never feel comfortable in the center of society where basically most people are," says Sgro. "They drift to the margins. I think that Bill, what he's actually doing, he's creating space at the margins for people. He gets it: They need that space."
And while service providers might criticize outdoor meal providers for applying feel-good, band-aid solutions, outdoor meal providers can just as easily point to the long lines of hungry people waiting for their food as an indictment of the city's "official" solutions.
"There's some romance in what we do, some feel-goodness," admits Adam Bruckner, who provides meals on the Parkway and writes checks for people to pay for government IDs. "But for me, it's just about meeting the need where it is. I don't advertise. And our ID program is really essential to many of the facilities in the city. I don't say that self-promotionally — they tell me that."
Golderer has so far managed to have a foot in both worlds.
"The outdoor feeders are the gold medalists of compassion — I love the Chicken Lady," he says. "And I'm not about to sit there and say her impulse to service is wrong, because I'm frickin' about that. And I also love the service providers."
A major problem, he says, is that everyone — including him — could get more done by working together. But it's not just the outdoor feeders (many of whom are wary of his offer to let them serve out of Broad Street Ministry) who can be territorial. A bigger issue, he says, is a citywide funding model that fosters competition, not collaboration.
The city contracts most of its homeless services via the competitive bidding process of Requests for Proposals. "An RFP, by its very nature, assumes that creating competition among service providers benefits the end user. I think it's high time we examine the wisdom of that," he says.
"What you hear over and over [from homeless people] — and I wish I could provide a meal for every time I've heard this — is that we should blow the whole system up and start over."
Broad Street Ministry is, essentially, an experiment in doing just that. The debate over outdoor feeding — and Golderer's attempt to make his congregation a very public part of the solution — represents an opportunity for his congregation to make good on their rhetoric.
"In this city, you have to pay your dues," he acknowledges. "You have to spend time in the dark place."
So far, he, his staff and his congregation seem to be succeeding in establishing their public pulpit.
"In my experience, you take a step and then you have to take the next step," says Scullion, who's been following Golderer's work with interest. "There's pros and cons to Bill's way," she says, but "he's stayed the course. And the people who are part of Broad Street Ministry are not sitting on the sidelines."