The task force charged with studying the city’s options for feeding the homeless laid out its recommendations in a report issued this week, and Mayor Michael Nutter said his administration is prepared to put them in place.
“Our commitment is to implement these recommendations, to deal with the core areas that have been identified, and to move the city forward and to take every one of our most vulnerable citizens with us,” Nutter said.
The 59-page report, released Wednesday afternoon, laid out five recommendations.
It urged the city to: establish consensus and capacity as it moved to deal with hunger; increase food access and options for the homeless; expand infrastructure, and help private providers feed more people and increase access to indoor feeding spaces for providers and the homeless.
The list of recommendations was intended to provide a comprehensive approach to a problem city officials described as complex — and which involved more than just hunger.
Noting that on average 200 people a day — and sometimes as many as 300 people — rely on meals provided by charitable organizations, Arthur Evans, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services who chaired the task force, said the problem is not limited to capacity.
“We have enough physical capacity in the city today to address that number,” he said. “But one of the reasons we’ve tried to lay out the core issues is, we don’t believe the solution is simply to add capacity. If that were the issue, I think the city would have resolved the issue a long time ago.”
Homelessness and hunger are often related to much larger economic and health issues, he said.
As a first step the mayor said he would name a point person within the administration to coordinate the effort — a joint initiative between the city and private entities that feed the homeless.
“I’m going to read the report, talk about it more, understand the recommendations, and then I’m going to focus my time on trying to identify who that is, where they’ll be situated and how we better address these issues at the highest level of government,” he said.
Because he received the report less than an hour before its public release, Nutter said it was too early to discuss specifically how his administration would move to handle the recommendations.
The mayor declined to be drawn into a discussion of an ongoing lawsuit between the city and several groups that feed the homeless, saying his priority this week was digesting the new report and moving to make the homeless get the help they need.
“The court matter is the court matter,” he said. “I’m not over in court. I’m focusing my time and effort in the streets of this city. I don’t want to get distracted on that particular matter.”
Homeless advocates sued the city to overturn Nutter’s executive order, issued in March, that banned large-scale feeding of the homeless outside. Violators faced fines of up to $150. Earlier this month, federal Judge William Yohn Jr., issued a temporary ruling against the order, allowing the continued serving of outdoor meals until he could issue a final ruling in the case.
In the wake of the dispute that led to the suit, Nutter seated the task force to find ways to feed the homeless that might placate both sides.
In addition to Evans, it included members Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who has spearheaded opposition to the ban; Salomon Vazquez of Connect Church; Bill McMillan with Sunday Breakfast Mission; Bill Golderer, Broad Street Ministry; Adam Bruckner, Philly Restart; Bill Clark, Philabudance; Jay Lewis Felton, Mt Airy C.O.G.I.C.; Joseph Rogers, Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP); Joye Presson, Office of Supportive Housing; Mary Horstmann, Mayor’s Office; and Bia Viera, Philadelphia Foundation.