The Center City District has begun its second year of reaching out to people who are homeless on the sidewalks of central Philadelphia, with twice the number of outreach workers.

Last year, the nonprofit worked in conjunction with Project HOME, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Department of Behavioral Health to organize an effort to engage with homeless people in Center City.

“There were miracles, there were heartaches,” said Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME. “Overall, this was a good program.”

The Center City District funded and launched the outreach program. During a 2018 pilot effort that ran from April 23 through Nov. 16, outreach workers encouraged 134 people to come off the street and enter social service, mental health, and housing programs.

The district also provided transportation to connect people to services.

Making a difference

The work made a difference, said Scullion, the city’s leading voice on the homeless.

“Of the 134, most are not on the street today,” she said. “Some still are, some went into treatment, or got medical care or social services. Many even got housing, and two passed away.”

Liz Hersh, director of the city’s Office of Homeless Services, praised the 2018 pilot. “We really welcomed it because it provided more boots on the ground.”

She hastened to add, however, that the city continues to face “the same challenges around street homelessness: We don’t have enough places to live that they can afford. Outreach is only as good as the ability to house people.”

Hersh said there are about 970 people living homeless on city streets. Almost 440 of them are in Center City, city statistics show.

She praised Paul Levy, the district’s president and CEO, for funding the program, and for re-instituting it this year with two teams, consisting of two Project HOME workers, a police officer, and two so-called Center City service representatives.

This year’s program, which began April 22, will extend into December.

Humane and effective

“We have been looking for a humane and effective way to combine Project HOME outreach workers and police to form a partnership to help get people off the street and connected to services,” Levy said.

The district is reimbursing the city around $170,000 for the police officers. An additional $130,000 goes to Project HOME.

“The challenge of homeless people and panhandlers on Center City streets has gotten so large, the business community had to kick in,” Levy added.

Often, a team will encounter a person living on the street seven times before persuading that person to connect to services, Levy said, adding, “It’s very much about relationship-building and consistency.”

In one case last year, Scullion said, the team came upon a woman in her 70s who’d been living at Sixth and Walnut Streets in her wheelchair. She often declined help.

But after the team persisted, the woman relented and, with the help of services, eventually got her own apartment, along with the health care she needed, Scullion said.

“There have been amazing stories,” she added. “A lot of good stuff like that.”