The homeless outreach teams arrived at Rittenhouse Square just before the morning rush hour. They had come to check in on familiar faces, park regulars who have refused to come inside for years - or even decades.

Like Aaron, a paranoid schizophrenic who will soon turn 50, and whose matted dreadlocks have formed into a solid, winding cable of hair. He wanted to be left the hell alone, he said.

But the team had come intent on engaging new faces, too.

Like the cursing man wearing a heavy coat, a stethoscope, and rubber gloves and carrying a bulky photo album. He was a doctor - no, an undercover agent, he said.

Some commuters tried to hide their stares Friday as outreach workers in orange T-shirts tried to coax his name out of him. Some didn't.

Get used to the orange-clad foot soldiers. You're bound to see them around town.

They are part of a new initiative from Mayor Kenney and Elizabeth Hersh, the new director of the city's Office of Supportive Housing. The idea is to send highly visible teams of outreach workers (hence, the bright attire) to Center City's four homeless hot spots - Rittenhouse Square, the areas around the Avenue of the Arts, the Convention Center, and Independence Hall - during the busiest times of the day: morning and evening commutes and lunchtime.

Outreach itself is nothing new, of course. It's long been the foundation of the city's efforts to combat homelessness. But what is new is this kind of targeted, coordinated approach.

The renovation of Dilworth Park and the construction on the Parkway and at LOVE Park have displaced homeless people - many of them mentally ill and addicted - and pushed them from the shadows into more visible areas. It's harder now to avert our eyes.

"We are all rubbing up against each other," Hersh said. "We are making outreach at the time where there is the most contact - and, to be honest, the most tension."

The new outreach effort is just a first step - a "down payment," she said. A sign to let people know that her department is working on the day-to-day needs, while also working on how to better address the root causes of homelessness - and how to do the most with what funding they have.

On June 21, her department will launch the 100 Day Street Homelessness Challenge - one that aims to bring together advocates for the homeless, city power brokers, and community leaders to answer those questions together.

If we seize this moment and translate it into action, into creative solutions for an entrenched problem the city is not equipped to handle on its own, then we win. If it translates into "Get these people out of my way - and please do it quickly before the DNC comes to town!" - then we fail ourselves and all those suffering on our sidewalks.

A citywide count conducted Wednesday night found a small but encouraging decrease in homelessness in Center City, but a significant increase in Kensington, keeping the total number on the rise. Citywide, there are about 700 homeless people on the streets on any given night, 300 to 400 of them in the greater Center City area, according to Project HOME.

And the ranks of the homeless are changing. Our streets are home to more and more suburban young people lost in the opiate addiction crisis.

Amid all the new, young faces, are the old, familiar ones.

Like Aaron, refusing to leave his Rittenhouse Square bench. Sam Santiago of Project HOME said that after years of work, a colleague had made a breakthrough with Aaron, had gotten him to come in and take his medication. But then that colleague left for another job, and, unwilling to trust anyone else, Aaron returned to the bench.

"We'll see you tomorrow, Aaron," Santiago said.

On a different bench sat Mike from Burholme Park, whom Santiago helped get sober and off the street a couple of years ago after years of working with him.

Mike was just visiting the park on a break from his construction job. Along with the other passing morning commuters, he watched as Santiago talked with the cursing man with the stethoscope.

"My name is Undercover Agent Daniel Kennedy," the man said, and asked to be left alone.

Sam made a note to tell the other outreach workers about the man. He would keep coming back, again and again, he said. Until the man might be ready to come inside.

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