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City Adds Beds, Services for Homeless Youth

In response to a rapid increase in youth homelessness, Philadelphia announced Tuesday that it will dedicate $700,000 to pay for additional beds, job training, and employment and counseling support targeting people 18 to 24.

“We are here to tell our most vulnerable young people, our children, our youth, that they matter, that we care, that we are there for them,” said Councilwoman Helen Gym, who with Council colleagues and Mayor Kenney’s administration secured the new funding. “They won’t face their challenges alone. We’ll be standing up as a city with them.”

At last count, 527 unaccompanied young adults lived in emergency or transitional housing in the city, and a point-in-time count found 25 sleeping on the streets. Those who track youth homelessness say the number of young people with “unstable housing” is much higher, likely 4,000 to 6,000.

 In the last four years, the number of high school students in Philadelphia who have experienced homelessness has increased 73 percent. That works out to one of every 20 high school students in the city.

Last year, 252 young adults aged out of the foster care system, many without a permanent place to live.

The $700,000 contract will go toward 50 new beds, job training, and employment support for 75 homeless youth, and counseling and mentoring for 40 LGBTQ youth.

Most of the money comes out of the city’s general fund, with some additional dollars from the Office of Homeless Services’ budget.

Five private providers were contracted to expand services and shelter: the Attic Youth Center, Covenant House PA, Pathways PA, Valley Youth House, and Youth Service Inc.

Donald Jackson, 23, was kicked out of his home by his mother when he was 18.

Jackson couch-surfed for a few months before landing at Covenant House, a shelter for young adults. He was lucky. The shelter turns away more than 500 people each year because of lack of space.

Jackson worked two jobs to get himself back on his feet.

Now he has his own apartment and works at Action Wellness, a nonprofit helping people living with chronic illness.

“Not everyone is fortunate enough to handle responsibilities, bills, the things an 18-year-old, a 21-year-old even, usually has people to help them deal with,” Jackson said. “It’s so important to provide that underlying support. At 18 you’re trying to figure out your life, and then even at 21 – who’s responsible at 21?”

The Surprising Way Philly Treats Homeless People During the DNC

When the conventions come to town every four years, making life a little more stressful for homeless people has become almost as much of a tradition as draping the city in red, white and blue.

Instead of trying to mask and ignore the problem, as other cities have done in the past, Philadelphia is working to help homeless people actually find places to stay as the city’s accommodations are stretched this week during the Democratic National Convention.

The city allocated $61,000 of its DNC budget to provide an additional 110 beds in shelters, according to Philadelphia Magazine. And, $25,000 will go towards supporting about 20 extra outreach workers.

The city has also partnered with advocates who are well-versed in the issues to help transition homeless people into available shelters, according to ThinkProgress.

This approach stands in stark contrast to past conventions.

In 2012, for example, during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, homeless people were banned entirely from a downtown park where they usually slept and the event site, The Huffington Post reported at the time.

“We had to get our stuff, and then we had to go a mile away or whatever from the facility, the area that was having the convention,” Johnson, 30, told The Huffington Post. “I really didn’t approve of it. We didn’t have nowhere else to go.”

When motel prices skyrocketed in Tampa, and in Charlotte during that year’s DNC, the homeless people who typically relied on such affordable accommodations were also left with nowhere to turn.

Charlotte’s motel prices soared 109 percent during that week, according to the LA Times.

“I work all day for $60,” Eric Jones, who had recently become homeless, told the news outlet. “Why am I going to pay $60 for a room, then I won’t have enough to spend on food or anything.”

Instead of following the lead of other cities, the City of Brotherly Love is taking a cue from its own past major events.

When the Pope visited Philadelphia last year, the city also expanded its outreach teams and often had them work with staff from the Department of Behavioral Health or formerly homeless peer specialists.

“Our hope is this would be a first step,” Laura Weinbaum of Project HOME, a group that works with homeless people, told ThinkProgress. “Even if the reason resources became available is because of the DNC, obviously we want to make hay when the sun shines.”

Philly to Focus Outreach to Homeless on Center City “Hotspots”

The Kenney administration announced a new strategy to fight panhandling and street homelessness in Philadelphia on Monday, one that will focus existing outreach efforts on Rittenhouse Square, the Convention Center, South Broad Street and Market East.

Those areas were identified as “hotspots” by the Office of Supportive Housing, which administers many of the city’s homelessness programs, with help from the Center City District. The office is hoping that the initiative will help the city gather better data about who is living on the streets while “alleviating the concerns” of tourists and intervening directly with homeless people to get them to take advantage of city services and, eventually, provide them with housing. 

Liz Hersh, director of the Office of Supportive Housing, announced the initiative Monday at City Hall, surrounded by Mayor Jim Kenney, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Philadelphia Housing Authority President Kelvin Jeremiah, Dr. Arthur Evans of the Department of Behavioral Health, and dozens of housing and social services advocates. Hersh was hired by the Kenney administration to run the office after years as an advocate with Pennsylvania Housing Alliance.

She applauded the mayor on Monday, saying he has been “a tremendous champion for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our city.”

Kenney said that he had started out his political career believing that homelessness was a police problem, but now believes the city should stop criminalizing homeless people. Kenney said the initiative, focused on downtown areas with high pedestrian traffic, isn’t meant to keep homeless people out of sight ahead of the Democratic National Convention this summer. In fact, he said, he’s hoping to enlist some national Democrats to help bolster the city’s homelessness outreach efforts.

The new outreach effort will be carried out with “existing resources,” Hersh said, with the addition of one small outreach unit focused on drug and alcohol addiction. The efforts will be targeted during morning and evening commuter rush hours and during lunchtime, Hersh said.
Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2016/05/16/philadelphia-homeless-center-city/#0wbqqIkSCfwiUXtH.99

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