Saying Philadelphia "has more work to do" to end homelessness, Mayor Nutter announced yesterday the continuation of a partnership with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to place homeless individuals and families in permanent homes.
At a news conference at Dilworth Plaza - where many homeless people sleep at night - Nutter said the Housing Authority would provide 500 apartments or rent subsidies in the year ahead as part of his ongoing initiative to address homelessness.
That matches what the housing agency pledged a year ago, when Nutter launched his initiative.
"Hundreds of formerly homeless people in this city are now living in safe, permanent housing," Nutter said. "That is something we can all be proud of."
Nutter took office in 2008 as the street population of homeless individuals in Center City was climbing, causing tension among downtown residents, businesses, and advocates for the homeless.
He vowed to address the problem by teaming with the Housing Authority. In addition, the city funded 200 units of housing for chronically homeless people, many of whom have mental illness or addictions.
Carl Greene, the authority's executive director, said the agency would match its commitment from last year with 300 units of public housing for families in shelters and 200 federal rent subsidies to individuals.
Greene said he had "respect" for the collaborative nature of the mayor's initiative. "We have a lot to teach the nation about homelessness," Greene said.
At the briefing, Nutter introduced Paul Wilkins, a former addict who lived for years on the streets. Wilkins went into treatment and recently moved into his own subsidized apartment as part of the mayor's initiative.
Holding up a set of keys, Wilkins said, "A year ago, I couldn't dream of having my own place."
According to the city's most recent quarterly homeless census, the population of people in shelters or on the streets has declined by 4 percent - 2,965 people this spring vs. 3,095 a year ago.
But the spring count showed a marked increase in the street population in Center City - 392 people vs. 261 at the same time a year ago.
Nutter said the recession was causing problems for mayors across the country. He cited an estimate from the National Alliance to End Homelessness that 1.5 million Americans could experience homelessness because of the economic downturn.
"Philadelphia has weathered the storm relatively well, given the state of the economy," Nutter said. "This situation could have been a lot worse."
Nutter said that even with the city's budget crisis, he remained committed to maintaining funds for homeless services.
As part of the Obama administration's economic recovery plan, Philadelphia will receive $21.4 million to use for homelessness prevention.
Nutter said that money should be put into service by October. "We're on the fast track," the mayor said.
Dainette Mintz, director of the city's Office of Supportive Housing, said the extra funds would be targeted in three ways:
Helping homeowners to pay off delinquent debts to stave off evictions or foreclosures.
Diverting people who show up at shelters into housing by giving them shallow rent subsidies to tide them over.
Re-housing families or individuals currently in shelters by extending financial help to clear up utility bills or to pay rent deposits.
If the Center City street population rises this summer - as it typically does with the onset of warmer weather - the situation could renew calls for the city to enforce rules preventing people from sleeping in parks.
Nutter said Center City residents and business owners know "we're committed to this effort and staying on top of it."
He added that stricter enforcement in the absence of housing alternatives for homeless people "is bad public policy."