North Broad Street could hardly have been less inviting yesterday afternoon: overcast, just above freezing, and wind gusts that set street signs clattering against utility poles.
Perfect for organizers of the third annual Project Homeless Connect, a one-stop outreach program where homeless people could drop by and get warm food, a haircut, and a chance to meet an assembly of social service, housing and treatment agencies.
The weather - a taste of what's to come for people who live on the streets - undoubtedly helped persuade many of the hundreds who crowded into the gymnasium behind the Salvation Army headquarters at Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue between noon and 5 p.m.
By about 3 p.m., roughly 320 homeless people had visited the program, said David Zega, an aide to Dainette M. Mintz, director of the city's main homeless agency, the Office of Supportive Housing.
Zega, who said about 500 were expected to visit the site by the day's end, said 30 people had been placed in housing or some appropriate treatment program.
Advocates for the homeless say one problem of trying to help them is that providers of crucial support services - veterans' benefits, drug, alcohol and mental health programs - are scattered around the city.
Yesterday's Project Homeless Connect, one of many held nationwide this week, enabled homeless people to meet representatives of the Salvation Army, the state Welfare Department, various homeless organizations and agencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and regional housing programs.
Mintz said such collaborations were essential to reduce the growing number of homeless people in Philadelphia. This summer's homeless count showed 621 people living on Center City streets - a 10-year high.
"Today is a demonstration of how we can come together in such partnerships," Mintz said. "As a fully engaged community, we have the capability to find and deliver lasting solutions to a problem we all have a significant stake in addressing."
Some of those visiting the project yesterday seemed to be on their way back from the streets.
Milo Thomas, 35, for example, said he had been clean and living for three months at Outley House, a shelter for 200 men in Southwest Philadelphia operated by Self Inc. with city funding.
That followed six months of living on the streets after he and his mother lost their public housing unit because of drug charges.
Thomas said he was arrested for sleeping in public behind Temple University - "I was loitering" - but the arrest triggered a criminal-record check that revealed an outstanding bench warrant for failing to appear in court.
After winding up for a time at the city's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Thomas was released to Outley House.
"It's hard losing your home," Thomas said. "You have to experience it. Your pride gets in the way. You don't want to go to places like this where you know they have resources there for you."
Yesterday, Thomas said, he was there to see friends and to try to help others take the steps he did.
"I'm here for the spiritual part, just being around all these people," Thomas said.
Others were at the beginning of their journey.
Michael Jones, 46, said he had come in just three days ago to the Ridge Center shelter, a block south on the other side of the old Divine Lorraine Hotel, after a year and a half on the streets around City Hall.
Jones said he had used cocaine since he was 11 and had spent seven years in a state prison on drug charges before being released in July 2005.
Jones insisted he had quit drugs and the streets for good this time and was working at reestablishing contact with his former wife and his three sons and daughter.
"We were together 17 years, and she stood by me," Jones said. "All I got to look forward to is the chance to get her back. It's a small chance, but I got to take care of myself first. If I do what I'm supposed to do, maybe I can make that an 85 percent chance."