By Pat Loeb

by Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia plans to launch a new approach to fighting homelessness, with a focus on what city officials are calling “hotspots,” in Center City.

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“We have gone back to the drawing board and say, ‘how can we do a better job? How can we respond to the changing needs in the community and the concerns that are being raised?’,” says Liz Hersh, the director of the Office of Supportive Housing.

For decades, outreach workers have responded if someone calls the homeless hotline but, starting today, Hersh says the workers also will be deployed in places where there are high concentrations of homeless people, at what she called “peak times:” the morning and evening rush and lunchtime.

The outreach workers will wear bright orange shirts that say “Call Homeless Outreach,” she says.

“They will be ambassadors, not just caring for attending to the homeless people on the street and connecting them to services, but also for commuters, tourists, and business people to answer their questions, address their concerns, educate them, anything they can do to be of service. It also demonstrates that we’re taking this problem seriously and we’re taking action.”

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Hersh says the six teams of workers, about 50 in all, will come from several non-profits and be paid from the existing behavioral health budget.

“We have not come back and said, ‘we need more money, we need more money’,” she says. “It was actually the outreach workers themselves who said, we feel we could have a greater impact if we could focus in these areas at these prime times rather than just being on call.”

She said similar tactics helped the city reach “functional zero” on veteran homelessness.

The new procedures will go into effect immediately after a morning news conference announcing more details of the plan.

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They’re being implemented just in time for the summer tourist season, and just ahead of the Democratic National Convention when thousands of visitors from all over the country will be spending time in and around Center City.