PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Jim Kenney and city officials announced details of a new homeless outreach strategy targeting Center City today at a City Hall press conference. Responding to a growing presence of street homelessness at four high volume areas of Center City classified as hot spots and using data from panhandling maps and other city records, the Office of Supportive Housing (OSH) will deploy elite uniformed street outreach teams on foot to each identified hotspot zone seven days a week from 6:30 to 9:30 am; 11:30 am to 2:30 pm; and 4:00 to 7:00 pm.
“Today, we are making a commitment to conduct proactive and targeted homeless outreach engagements three times a day at optimal time frames. This will enable us to assist a greater number of our homeless citizens in meeting their basic survival needs while addressing the valid concerns of local businesses, commuters, advocates and all who share the streets of Center City,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
Each team deployed will engage and assess the homeless individuals and families they find living on the street; provide them with immediate options for transitioning into emergency housing; and connect them to appropriate medical care, mental health and addiction treatment and other social services.
Liz Hersh, director of the city’s Office of Supportive Housing, said “it’s about assisting them with meeting their needs for basic survival and providing them with general support as they begin the process of charting a course for recovering their lives and we need all of our partners to help us make this happen.”
While many people experiencing street homelessness do not have a mental health or addiction challenge, untreated mental illness and addiction drives much of the disturbing behavior exhibited by a large number of people living on the street.
Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., commissioner of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services said people who are living on the street and experiencing a mental illness or addiction are particularly vulnerable because of the challenge of battling both homelessness and an untreated behavioral health condition.
“A huge strength of this new campaign is that we are deploying outreach teams that have been trained to recognize and respond appropriately to someone who is displaying symptomatic behavior and are experienced in connecting people who have mental, physical, social and emotional conditions to needed services. These outreach workers are skilled in establishing trust, which is essential for transitioning more people off the streets.”
Outreach teams – consisting of social workers, mental health counselors, addiction specialists and men and women who were once homeless – will be deployed to the following zones in four teams of three: Center City’s Rittenhouse Square area (15th Street to 21st Street and Market to Locust streets); Avenue of the Arts area (Market to Pine streets and 10th Street to Broad Street); Convention Center area (Vine to Market streets and 10th Street to 15th Street); and Independence Hall area (Race to Locust streets and 4th Street to 10th Street).
The outreach effort kicked off immediately following this morning’s press conference and will run as a strategic intervention pilot throughout the spring and summer months.
In addition to proactively engaging with those who are experiencing street homelessness in each hotspot area, outreach teams will connect weekly with local businesses in their assigned zones to gather their ongoing feedback pertaining to the effectiveness of the pilot. Teams will remain in coordinated communication with police around observed criminal behavior and quality of life disturbances. And they will be on hand in an expanded ambassador role wearing noticeable orange T-shirts answering questions, providing information and serving as a general resource for Center City commuters, tourists and everyday citizens who have questions or concerns about encountering someone who lives on the street.
The city will continue deploying homeless outreach teams on demand 24/7 to neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia while the spring and summer pilot takes place in Center City. Citizens should contact Philadelphia’s homeless outreach hotline at 215-232-1984 to request an outreach team at any time and at any location in the city.