PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is taking on a challenge that has stymied his predecessors: improving public spaces by tackling panhandling, street homelessness and outdoor meal programs. The administration has formed a new task force on those issues.
Homeless services director Liz Hersh hopes the task force will navigate the tension between those using the city’s streets and parks in a conventional way, and those using them to sleep or ask for money.
“We are trying to be respectful of people’s rights and, at the same time, address the challenging social problems that are created,” Hersh said.
It’s a delicate balance and past efforts have often put different factions at odds, which Hersh understands.
“Because they are shared, people have strong feelings about them,” she said. “We love our public spaces. That’s why we really to get everybody on board with figuring out how we move forward.”
Members include city officials, tourism and business leaders, and advocates such as Project HOME founder Sister Mary Scullion. Scullion tried working with former Mayor Michael Nutter on his effort to end outdoor feeding, only to turn into an ardent opponent as the plan unfolded. She says she’s more hopeful about this effort.
“Mayor Kenney has assured us the rights of people who are homeless will be upheld throughout this process,” Scullion said. “All of us want to work for a quality of life for everyone in our community, including those that are homeless.”
The city has already begun targeted outreach to people in so-called hotspots in Center City — and trying to encourage alternatives to giving money to panhandlers.