The number of people living on the streets in Center City dropped in the fall, reflecting progress by the Nutter administration in placing homeless people with special needs into permanent housing, Deputy Mayor Donald Schwarz said yesterday.
In a count taken Nov. 18, volunteers who fanned out across an area between Spring Garden and South Streets and from the Schuylkill to the Delaware River found 13 percent fewer people on the streets - 329 this November compared with 377 at the same time a year ago.
For a larger area that included parts of West Philadelphia, Kensington, North Philadelphia, and Philadelphia International Airport, there were 26 percent fewer people counted on the streets - 395 this year compared with 532 the year before.
Advocates for the homeless say while that there has been progress, the broader census is not as thorough as the Center City count and misses many areas that have been reporting higher levels of street homelessness, such as Germantown and South Philadelphia.
"We can do Center City and do an adequate job," said Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Project HOME, a nonprofit agency helping the homeless that conducted the census. "The new factor this year is, there are increasing numbers of people living on the streets in an area outside the normal boundaries of where we count."
Commenting on the latest homeless census, Mayor Nutter said in a statement, "We have made substantial progress in tackling homelessness in Philadelphia, though obviously the work goes on."
Since taking office, Nutter has worked more closely with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to create housing options for people living in shelters, in recovery residences, or on the streets.
Since May 2008, the Housing Authority has promised to set aside a total of 400 rent subsidies for homeless individuals and 600 public-housing units for homeless families.
Schwarz, who also is the city's health commissioner, said that the consistent stream of housing from the Housing Authority - lacking during the administration of Mayor John F. Street - had helped free up space in shelters and recovery residences, and move more people off the streets.
"Reducing the scourge of homelessness was the very first initiative the mayor talked to me about after taking office," said PHA Executive Director Carl Greene. "We have worked together to systematically attack the problem with a coordinated effort."
Schwarz said the city also has expanded resources to place people with mental illness and addiction - two prevalent problems among the chronically homeless - into permanent housing.
Under Nutter's plan to reduce homelessness, the city has funded 200 units of housing for chronically homeless people with special needs. Of that commitment, 102 people with severe mental illness have moved directly from the streets into permanent housing with supportive services through a program called Pathways to Housing.
Angelo Sgro, executive director of the nonprofit Bethesda Project, which operates shelters and transitional housing for the homeless, said Schwarz has done more than his predecessors to include the city's mental-health professionals in efforts to address street homelessness.
He said the three wintertime "overnight cafes" that the Nutter administration funds to bring indoors people who otherwise would shun traditional shelters have helped keep the street count down.
Schwarz said the street population has been dropping since the start of the year.
"What I'd like to do is build momentum so people recognize that housing can help the problem, that behavioral-health intervention can help, and that it's not hopeless," he said.