by Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia will increase the number of outreach workers and shelter beds for homeless people during the Democratic National Convention.
It will also offer tips to visitors on how to help, including suggesting they make donations to a city fund to end homelessness.
Office of Supportive Housing Director Liz Hersh says this is not an effort to hide the city’s homeless population but an extension of a two-month-old strategy of focusing outreach efforts on so-called “hot spots,” with the highest concentrations of unsheltered homeless people.
Those happen also to be the places most visited by tourists: Rittenhouse Square, transit stations, and the Convention Center.
With thousands of visitors expected, Hersh says the city is taking an approach similar to the one that preceded the Pope’s visit.
“We’re letting people who are living on the street know that there will be large crowds, that there will be an increased police presence, secret service presence, that there are areas that will be inaccessible,” she says.
The office expects to spend an additional $86,000 on the effort, which will include 20 additional outreach workers and 100 additional shelter beds.
“We’re surveying them to find out what they would like and we will be offering respite to get in away from the crowds, to be safe, to be cool,” she says.
Hersh says the targeted outreach has already been a success.
“It’s actually exceeded everyone’s expectations,” she says. “We’ve gotten some additional requests to expand the hot spots and prime times. We’ve gotten great feedback from the business and civic associations, that the outreach workers are ambassadors, that it gives them another resource.”
The new outreach strategy has a component aimed not at the homeless but at commuters and residents and that, too, will be beefed up for the Convention.
“They’ll be distributing palm cards that let visitors understand that homelessness in Philadelphia is part of a national phenomenon, that we’re making progress and if they’d like to help, they can contribute to the mayor’s fund to end homelessness,” she says.
She says the additional outreach and services will begin this month and last into August.