Teaming to battle homelessness, the city and the Philadelphia Housing Authority will begin providing 700 housing units and beds for homeless people, Mayor Nutter announced yesterday.

"We have souls and lives to save," said Nutter, speaking at Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall, a spot where homeless people congregate. "This is one of the most serious crises the city faces."

The $8.3 million plan comes at a time when the number of homeless people living on the streets is declining slightly, while the overall number of hard-to-count homeless people in shelters and other facilities appears to be rising, according to advocates.

"This shows a dramatic commitment on the city's part," said Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Project HOME, a nonprofit agency that provides housing and services for homeless people. She later added, "I applaud the mayor's leadership. I'm very happy the mayor is owning this issue."

Gloria Guard, president of the People's Emergency Center in West Philadelphia, declared herself "thrilled" with the plan, adding, "This is the first time a mayor's put money on the table [to fight homelessness] this early in his administration."

Then, in a slight tempering of enthusiasm, she added, "I'm just hoping it's not only for street population, but for women and children as well."

In his remarks, Nutter said the housing units and beds would serve both populations, pointing out that 54 percent of the city's homeless people are families - single mothers and their children.

Last spring, around 500 people were found to be living on the city's streets, according to Sister Mary. This spring, the number is around 400, she added.

But the number of people living on the street usually increases during the summer. And typically, the number of people living in shelters and other facilities is many times greater than those on the street at any time, advocates say. Last summer, for example, nearly 4,000 people were living in city and private shelters. The street census last summer hit 621, the highest in a decade.

"We are getting the sense, from dealing with the shelters, that there are more homeless people in Philadelphia now than there have been in a long time," Sister Mary said. "And right now we're working to find out exactly how many."

To deal with the growing numbers, the Nutter-PHA plan calls for 500 PHA housing units to be given over to the homeless - 300 for families and 200 for individuals.

There's no additional cost to PHA, spokesman Kirk Dorn said. The units will simply be designated for the mayor's program, he added. Part of the $8.3 million cost will fund support services for people placed in the PHA units.

Although there is a 48,000-person waiting list for PHA housing, PHA does have the right to use the units "to tackle this crisis," Dorn said.

He added that PHA is compelled to ask, "Where is the need the greatest?" Although people on the list are mostly the working poor and in genuine need, "they probably have some kind of housing already."

The city's contribution includes 200 units and beds. They consist of 125 units of "permanent supportive housing" - that is, a combination of housing and services to help people. Units would be added in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The city will also be funding 50 "safe-haven" beds in various residential-treatment facilities for homeless people with acute addiction and behavioral-health problems. The city also has committed to providing an additional 25 beds, which could be used either for safe-haven beds or supportive housing.

Two overnight cafes for the homeless will also be continued.

None of the $8.3 million for the plan will come from the general fund, said Donald Schwarz, deputy mayor for health and opportunity, but rather from existing federal and state funding.

Obviously, Nutter and other officials said yesterday, the new plan won't help everyone.

PHA Executive Director Carl Greene, who was at Nutter's news conference, said in a written statement, "It is just unfortunate that we don't have the resources to serve all of the people who need our help."

But the effort seems to have impressed those who work with the homeless every day.

"This is definitely not just window dressing," said David Dunbeck, director of homeless services for Horizon House, a Quaker-affiliated nonprofit that works with the mentally ill. "The mayor is bringing together resources. There seems to be a lot of sincerity."

Indeed, at one point, Nutter tried to explain the vast gaps between the haves and have-nots in the city.

He suggested that members of the audience stand at 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

On one side of the Parkway sits a small park where the homeless gather, Nutter said. On the opposite side is the Four Seasons Hotel.

"It's a tale of two cities," Nutter said with emotion. At night, he added, "you'll find people sleeping in both places. Same city, same space."

"Think about which side of the street you'd want to be on."

Told about the city-PHA plan, Hamiyd Washington, a homeless man lying on a bench in nearby JFK Plaza, nodded vigorously.

"It's a good idea," said Washington, 39, of West Philadelphia, who described himself as "bipolar and messed up." He added, "The mayor is trying. I hope this is the beginning of something.

"Tell the mayor I said thank you."

Homeless Housing Plan

Here are details of Mayor Nutter's proposal for housing the homeless.

Cost:

$8.3 million, taken from existing federal and state funding.

Elements:

700 housing units and beds for the homeless.

Five hundred

units will be provided by the Philadelphia Housing Authority - 300 for families, 200 for individuals.

The city

will contribute 200 units and beds, including 125 units of "permanent supportive housing" - a combination of housing and services.

The city

will also fund 50 "safe-haven" beds in residential-treatment facilities for homeless people with acute addiction and behavioral health problems.

In addition,

the city has committed to providing an additional 25 beds, to be used either for safe-haven beds or supportive housing.

Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian contributed to this article.