Corbett’s Plan Includes Increase in Philadelphia’s Homeless

This will make a nice welcome for tourists.

Have you ever taken a long car drive, and you’re waiting for a rest stop, and your stomach is growling and everyone in the car is getting irritable—your wife, the kids, you’re all starving. Your six-year-old is out of juice, and your son is saying, “Mom, where’s my cookie-bar,” and as your wife starts to dig through her purse, you realize you ate it yourself 10 minutes ago. And you start to think, comically but darkly, about stories you’ve heard of people who run out of gas on long stretches of highway and get snowed in, and how they survive on crusty sugar packets found in the back of the glove box, and you wonder if you could survive that kind of thing … and right then you see the sign: REST STOP. Everyone in the car cheers, and you think, “The first bite of that burger is going to be delicious.”

We’ve all had experiences more or less like that—those moments when you feel like you’ll die from hunger or those hot days when a neighborhood Wawa seems like a desert oasis. If we’re lucky, they’re just moments. But for people who are poor or homeless, such moments can turn into days. It’s like they’re driving and driving and thinking, Where’s the effing rest stop?

I’ll tell you where one of them is, reliably: on the Parkway. The scene at the “feedings,” as they’re weirdly referred to, isn’t going into the next tourism video to celebrate July Fourth in Philly. People aren’t decked out in their Boyd’s and Barney’s best. But they’re hungry, and there’s food, and that’s a good equation. Unless, of course, you’re one of the city officials who would like these people to disappear—just in time for the opening of the new Barnes Foundation.

Just one problem with that plan, which is well under way: Gov. Corbett’s new budget. According to City Paper‘s Samantha Melamed:

Some 4,000 mentally ill people will lose outpatient services; 400 of them will lose case management services; and 500 to 600 people with chronic mental illness will lose out on housing support, according to Schwarz, meaning “We expect people will be discharged from hospitals and other places into homeless shelters.” … One out of two daytime mental health emergency teams and six out of eight walk-in centers dealing with emergency mental health services will likely be cut. … As for those homeless shelters—which can be expected to absorb much of this new overflow—they’ll be losing critical case management services.

For every city official who thought they were making progress getting the homeless to disappear, this budget is catastrophic. One step forward, one yard back. The budget cuts will make the homeless and mentally ill significantly more visible; the Parkway will be the least of it. If mobile services don’t come to people who need help, they get mobile themselves. And if they can’t go to dedicated crisis centers, they’ll go to regular ERs—the ones where tourists go. If the mentally ill are ejected from housing and then sent to understaffed, overburdened homeless shelters, they’ll be right out on the streets—near the Barnes, around Dilworth Plaza, standing in the photo with a tourist trying to run like Rocky up the stairs of the Art Museum.

The people against the “feeding” have influence beyond the city. They know people who know people, which is why I articulate this plea in terms they can understand. Guys, if you’re worried about the way the city will look to visitors when the Barnes opens, think about this: If this budget passes, the city is going to look, to you, like a giant human trash bin has been emptied onto the sidewalks. In reality, it’ll be human suffering and desperation, but whatever you call it, it won’t be tourist-friendly.