Homeless Safety a Heightened Issue During Summer Months

By David T. Jones
Acting Commissioner,

Summer is here –- at last -– and for many people, thoughts turn to fun family getaways, sitting out by the pool or on the beach and sweet treats like ice cream or water ice to cool us down. But for people who are living on the street, these options of summer escapes aren’t so readily accessible.

Hundreds of people experience periods of street homelessness in Philadelphia, using street corners, transit hubs and parks as shelter. Heavily-traveled areas, particularly in and around Center City, reveal the faces of this sad reality. And while being homeless can be devastating enough for an individual, the problem is only compounded for those who are also living with an untreated mental illness, addiction, or both.

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Homeless Outreach

Homeless Outreach

Cross-System Collaboration

Cross-System Collaboration

Housing and Homeless Services

Housing and Homeless Services


Volunteers Needed for 2018 Philadelphia Homeless Count

Every year Philadelphia, with the support of hundreds of volunteers, conducts a Point-in-Time Count of all persons experiencing homelessness on the streets, in a shelter, and in other temporary housing.

The purpose of the count is to estimate the size of the populations in need of housing and supportive services. The Point-in-Time (PIT) Count is planned and executed by the Office of Homeless Services, DBHIDS, Project HOME, Valley Youth House, and the Veterans Administration Medical Center.

The results of the count are reported to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and are vital to supporting Philadelphia’s efforts to eradicate homelessness from our City.

In preparation for the 2018 count, which will begin at 10:30 p.m. on the night of Jan. 24 and conclude at 7 p.m. on Jan. 25, we are recruiting volunteers to canvass the City to count and survey all homeless individuals. Volunteers that have never participated in a PIT Count must be available to attend a one-hour training.

If you are available to volunteer or want additional information about the different types of opportunities please visit the 2018 Point-in-Time Count registration page. For the 2018 PIT Count, there are positions available to earn a stipend for six hours of PIT related work.

These paid positions are reserved for individuals who have experienced any of the following: homelessness; substance abuse disorder; a mental health diagnosis; military duty; dual diagnosis; housing insecurity. Positions will be filled on a lottery system and selected individuals will be notified by email. If you run a program and have participants interested in volunteering, please submit their information for consideration at the 2018 Point-in-Time Count registration page. Look for the Peer Team Member Application.


Porch Light Program Launches New Kensington Site

Ribbon cutting at Porch Light Project Kensington KickoffIt was an afternoon of food, fun and fellowship as we cut the ribbon to our Kensington Storefront site, a new hub where people throughout Kensington can gather to learn about behavioral health resources, participate in community programming, and develop a love for public art.

Dozens gathered on Saturday, March 25, for the kickoff of our newest Porch Light site at 2774 Kensington Ave. The Porch Light Program is an ongoing program in which we partner with Mural Arts Philadelphia to promote public health by creating murals that transform Philadelphia neighborhoods, enhancing recovery and resilience among individuals facing behavioral health challenges. Through this innovative program, we collaborate with other organizations to build a team of artists, service providers, community members and city-wide stakeholders to initiate transformative public art projects.

“We believe that art ignites change, that it has a particular power,” Mural Arts Executive Director Jane Golden said to attendees, emphasizing how the Porch Light program can be an effective weapon in the fight against substance use. “And we’re proud to work with our partners to use art to overcome stigma and focus on overall behavioral health wellness.”

In addition to Golden, guests heard from several city leaders, including our own Deputy Commissioner Roland Lamb, City of Philadelphia Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis, and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District).

Lamb echoed Golden’s remarks, stressing that collaboration is crucial to delivering the resources people need to improve their quality of life.

“Solutions for the problems we have are right here in the community. We want to make sure we have focused interventions here, but most importantly, we want to make sure we have people in the communities who are champions,” Lamb said, acknowledging Impact Services, Prevention Point Philadelphia, and New Kensington Community Development Corp., all Kensington-based groups partnering with DBHIDS and Mural Arts to offer support for those affected by trauma caused by substance abuse, homelessness, and crime.

Added Lamb, “We are looking to build high-level collaborations and partnerships like the ones we have today to continue to build supports that people need to have in their communities.”

Our first Porch Light hub in South Philadelphia has generated positive change in regards to the public health of the residents in the communities served by the program. A 2015 Yale School of Medicine study found that after almost two years, residents living within one mile of the mural created there experienced an increase in neighborhood “collective efficacy,” pride over improved community aesthetics and a decrease in feelings of stigma towards mental health and substance use. To date, 60-70 people utilize that site each day and expectations are for similar participation in Kensington, Golden said.

Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis lauded the Kensington Storefront partners for their willingness to come together to create opportunities for those in greatest need.

“This hub space can be a window to the soul of the community,” DiBerardinis said. “Out of that grows ideas, faith, hope, courage, and progress. We want to build hope here. We want to build opportunity here.”

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.