[ homelessness ]
Advocates for the homeless are worried that the city is preparing to crack down on the homeless population that live and hang out on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. City officials insist they're looking out for the safety of everyone.
If that sounds like a familiar story, it should. Every few years, the same narrative seems to surface: The Parkway is finally about to become a sparkling jewel of Philly tourism and civic pride (this time with the opening of the relocated Barnes Foundation), but first something's got to be done about the homeless situation and the people who fuel it by providing meals. Former Mayors Ed Rendell and John Street, former Councilman Frank DiCicco and Center City District chief executive Paul Levy have all tried at various points to discourage the practice — and all have so far failed.
Now the Nutter administration seems to be taking up the cause.
A few weeks ago, the Department of Health distributed fliers inviting those who serve food outside to attend a meeting of the Board of Health, which promulgates rules governing food safety.
The board, according to Health Department spokesman Jeff Moran, is "taking a look at what regulations might be applied" to food distribution to ensure safe food practices. The Health Department, says Commissioner Donald Schwarz, is "interested in helping to assure that those who are hungry and are getting fed are safer, and that those who are feeding are aware of safe procedures."
Some homeless advocates, however, see another attempted crackdown on the horizon. A coalition of Parkway food distributors released a statement on Wednesday saying new regulations would constitute "unnecessary obstacles between hungry people and free meals."
Not everyone sees the situation as cut and dry, though. "I think what they're trying to do is to come up with a mechanism for [regulating] who's serving meals out there and whether they're healthy, and I can respect that," says Pastor Brian Jenkins. His church, Chosen 300 Ministries, runs an indoor meal program and also delivers meals outside once a week. But historically, he says, "the city has not been friendly to those who feed [people] on the streets. So the response often is, 'They're trying to shut us down!'"
Pastor Bill Golderer of Broad Street Ministry, a Center City church that offers homeless services, is conflicted. On the one hand, he says, "Those people are hungry. If the city's going to crack down, what's the alternative?" On the other, he points out that the meals — often sub-par food served in sub-par conditions — aren't much of a solution either.
Broad Street Ministry recently spent nearly half a million dollars on an industrial kitchen; Golderer wants to see his program expand, and possibly offer a better alternative to the menu on the Parkway. "I'm trying to muster resources right now to contribute something that is dignifying and gives a sense that people are valuable."