On June 28, John Williams, 32, sat on a folding chair on a dusty North Broad Street sidewalk, watching workers load file boxes and a few scarred pieces of furniture into a moving truck on the final day of operations at the Ridge Center, the city’s largest homeless shelter for men and one of few options close to Center City.
Williams, wearing socks jammed into flip-flops and a flashy stud earring, said he wasn’t exactly sorry to see the disembowelment of Ridge, where he disliked bunking 10 or more to a room. Yet he expects that moving will make his efforts to scramble out of what he hopes is a brief brush with homelessness just a little more difficult.
That’s because the Ridge homeless are being relocated to the Station House at 2601 N. Broad St. “It’s a bit [of a] way out. All of my affairs are down here,” said Williams, whose hopes are staked on admittance to Ready, Willing & Able, a program based at 12th and Bainbridge streets. “From here to South Philadelphia, that’s not bad. But if I have to walk from [North Philly], that will be hard.”
The city had announced it would introduce a series of new, smaller men’s shelters to replace Ridge. But so far, the only proffered alternative is the Station House, with about 100 beds. Ridge — which will reportedly make way for a Stephen Starr commissary — had previously housed more than 300 men; it was down to 66 as of June 27.
Nick Lordi, who heads the men’s ministry at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission at 302 N. 13th St. — where the 30-day shelter program runs at 90 percent of capacity in summer and is full autumn through spring — says his breakfast crowd doubled the first day after Ridge closed. Since then, things have leveled off, but the day center has been unusually packed. Whether that’s due to a heat wave or Ridge closing, he doesn’t know. What he does know is, as Ridge has been scaling back, “I have seen more of guys staying here for 30 days and not knowing where else to go, so then asking for extensions to stay here longer or going into a park to sleep.”
Dainette Mintz, director of the city’s Office of Supportive Housing, says her office hasn’t registered any such change. “We’ve continued to have our same amount of vacancies,” she says. “We’ve had capacity issues for years; we haven’t seen it particularly exacerbated by Ridge closing.”
But one homeless-services provider said the outcome is simple: “People who come in here and say, ‘We want placement in a Center City shelter,’ there’s no way to accommodate those kinds of requests.”
Anthony Jackson, 30, has been homeless since April; he sleeps on the street, he says, both because it’s important for him to be in Center City, near job opportunities, and because shelter intake lines are just too long. Until last week, he went to Ridge for meals and to shower. He says he doesn’t have another place to shower as of yet.
Williams, on the other hand, said he believes staying in a shelter is crucial. “Living on the street, you can’t get nothing accomplished.”