When I was a candidate for mayor in 2007, among the many issues in the campaign that I felt passionately about was Mayor Nutter’s plan to stop, question and frisk anyone suspected of having a gun on the streets.
I was opposed to it then, and I am opposed to it now.
During that campaign four years ago, voters would often stop me and ask: “Are you soft on crime?” On the contrary, I am a strong advocate of law and order, and, frankly, the highest priority of all elected officials should be public safety. Without it, there is unbridled chaos.
But “stop-and-frisk,” as it is conveniently called, is a proposal far too simplistic for the very complicated issue of crime. Yes, it wins the battle for good publicity, but it fails miserably on many levels because it essentially labels anyone who looks “suspicious” a criminal.
That’s one of the reasons why my opposition to it is so personal.
My parents were West German immigrants who narrowly escaped the murderous reign of Adolf Hitler. They settled here and built a wonderful life for themselves, proud to be Americans, literally basking in the freedom of democracy. Not a single day passed that my parents did not remind me how grateful they were to be living in America.
As I was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, the stigma of prejudice was never far away. Living in Northeast Philadelphia, neighbors would sometime brusquely ask me about my parents and if they were living here as citizens. I didn’t like it then, and looking back on it 50 years later, it sounds as ugly as ever.
In the mid-1970s, I learned that my father had actually been detained for 18 months in an Army camp along with other German and Japanese immigrants. He was moved from base to base across the country without any evidence of charges filed against him.
His was labeled “suspicious” only because of his ethnic background.
At his visa hearing, an officer reviewed my father’s file, shook his head, and apologized on behalf of the American government for such a miscarriage of justice.
The protection of civil liberties is paramount in any civilized society. The American patriots who framed our constitution, and the men and women who have fought and died in the defense of it over the last 235 years deserve nothing less.
There is no question that we must prevent the scourge of crime from devouring entire neighborhoods in this city. Advances in police work, greater public awareness and increased resources into crime prevention are making us a safer city.
“Stop-and-frisk” does nothing to advance this goal. It fans the ugly fires of prejudice and arouses anger in those communities where the most vulnerable are already preyed upon.
“Stop-and-frisk” has no place in our society.
Al Taubenberger is a Republican candidate for Philadelphia City Council at-large.
Two firefighters were killed and two others seriously injured while fighting to control a massive five-alarm inferno in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
The firemen were killed when the ceiling and a wall collapsed inside a furniture store that was burning at Boston Street and Kensington Avenue. They have been identified as Lt. Robert Neary, 60, and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25. Both men were attached to Ladder 10 of the Philadelphia Fire Department.
“It is with profound sadness that I announce the deaths of two of Philadelphia firefighters who perished early this morning in the line of duty during a five alarm fire,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “These firefighters made the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Philadelphia. This is a tremendous loss for their families and the city of Philadelphia. My prayers go out to their families and to the Philadelphia Fire Department, whose members have lost two of their brothers.
“My thoughts also go out to the firefighters and the families of those who were injured in the line of duty this morning. We are grateful that they are receiving the top medical care available. Our first responders — our firefighters, police officers and paramedics — are our heroes and make unimaginable sacrifices each and every day for the citizens of Philadelphia. I would like to thank them for their service, and our hearts go out to those who have lost their colleagues and friends.”
According to Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, the fire started inside a warehouse at East York and Jasper Streets at 3:13 a.m. Because of the high winds and dry conditions, the blaze quickly escalated to a 5-alarm inferno that spread to six houses and the Giamari Furniture Store. The fire was declared under control around 5:15 a.m.
"We have two firefighters that lost their lives," said a shaken Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. Ayers said that Neary and Sweeney were with three other firefighters were inside battling the peripheral blaze when the ceiling of the store and a wall collapsed. It took almost two hours to dig the injured personnel out. "We're asking for prayers for the families. We’re getting a lot of support. Just as we serve our citizens, right now they’re serving us.”
As the fire engulfed the warehouse, high winds blew hot embers to six nearby houses, causing damage but fortunately, no further deaths or injuries. The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania was on hand and offered comfort and assistance to the displaced local residents.
According to a statement released by the firefighters’ union, Neary had 38 years with the Philadelphia Fire Department after serving three years in the Philadelphia Police Department. He leaves behind a wife, Diane and three adult children, Robert, Christopher and Dianne.
Sweeney, according to the union statement, joined the fire department in 2006, and is the son of a retired Philadelphia fire captain, David Sweeney. He was unmarried.
Seriously injured by the fire were firefighters Francis Chaney, 43, and Patrick Nally, 25. Chaney is an eight-year veteran of the department and Nally has served five years. Both were listed in stable condition, and Nally was released.
Philadelphia Works, Inc., the city’s new workforce development organization, officially made its debut.
The new nonprofit organization represents the merger of the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation (PWDC) and the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board (WIB).
The merger combines and connects the WIB’s research and data mission of establishing a strategic direction for the city’s public workforce development system with the administrative, fiscal and operational duties of the PWDC.
Mark Edwards, who served as president and CEO of the PWDC, will serve in the same role with Philadelphia Works. Meg Shope Koppel, who had been interim CEO of the PWIB, will be the vice president of research, policy and innovation in the new organization.
“Monday marks an exciting day for the workforce system in Philadelphia. This marks the culmination of two solid years of planning that we’ve been engaged in to reform the workforce system,” says Edwards.
“So now the workforce system is far more focused on the needs of employers. What we want employers to know is that if they have jobs available, they should come to the workforce system to work with us to help fill those jobs.”
Edwards encourages job seekers to utilize the services of Philadelphia Works.
“We are ready to make a connection between them and the jobs that are available through employers,” says Edwards.
“We have a streamlined governing structure, so we’re a lot easier to understand. It’s a lot easier to interact with us than it has been in the past.”
In June 2011, Mayor Michael Nutter announced his intention to reform the workforce development system following a commissioned report from the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW). CSW, in partnership with HR Consultants, recommended a more streamlined system with more transparency and more accountability.
“Philadelphia Works, Inc. represents another step we are taking to reform the workforce development system and create a source of ‘one-stop shopping’ for both employers and individuals looking for employment. The organization will be dedicated to helping Philadelphians get training and find employment,” said Nutter.
To help guide the nonprofit organization, a new slate of board officers has been elected. The mayor appoints the organization’s board which, by law, must have a majority of private sector employers.
Joseph A. Frick, vice chairman and managing partner at Diversified Search will serve as chairperson. David Donald, founder and CEO of PeopleShare, Inc., is the vice chairperson. Elizabeth Riley-Wasserman, senior vice president, human resources and organization development, Mercy Health System, will serve as secretary. Phillip S. Barnett, senior vice president and chief financial officer, PECO, is treasurer.
“We have taken major steps toward making the workforce system more efficient. This merger will enable Philadelphia Works to provide a more strategic approach to what employers and job seekers need,” Frick said in a release.
“We still have a challenging job ahead of us and we look forward to supporting workers and employers alike.”
A new operator, the Public Consulting Group (PCG), with its partner JobWorks, Inc., has been selected as the provider of adult and dislocated services at the five PA CareerLink centers in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Works not only has oversight responsibilities for PCG/JobWorks, but will partner with the provider to streamline employer services. This is the first time, since the implementation of the Workforce Investment Act in 2000, that the provider of workforce services was competitively bid.
Philadelphia Works also continues PWDC’s role of overseeing six EARN Centers, contracted to provide services to those receiving public assistance (TANF).
In total, Philadelphia Works oversees a $50 million budget for these services and attracts funding to innovate and improve the workforce system.
As part of the reorganization, PWDC and the WIB have combined offices and staff. The organization is located in the former PWDC offices at 1617 JFK Blvd.
For information visit www.philaworks.org.
Mayor’s proposal would generate additional $94M for education
School commissioners this week asked City Council members to go along with Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to implement the Actual Value Initiative this year so the district would receive an additional $94 million.
Without it, said School Reform Commission Chair Pedro Ramos, the district would face a $312 million budget deficit rather than the $218 million shortfall that is anticipated at the moment.
“Without those funds, our gap next year would grow to over $300 million, which … is unthinkable,” Ramos told Council members Tuesday during Council hearings on the district’s budget. “We believe [we have] a realistic path back to structural financial balance.” Commissioners and district officials gave each Council member a large binder that broke down district $2.6 billion budget by school and included line items of things that are likely to be cut without the added funding. In addition, to a fiscal budget for 2013, the district also brought to Council its restructuring plans, which include the scheduled closure of 40 schools this year, a five-year plan that included a projected $1.1 billion deficit over that period and 24 more school closures.
Much of Council’s concern stems from the mayor’s plan to move the basis of property taxes from traditional assessed values based on millage to full market value — AVI. The shift is expected to increase property taxes for many Philadelphians, which makes many Council members even more uncertain about extra money for schools.
Council members are cautiously weighing all their options as they look at the district’s spending plan and warned school commissioners that they intended to give unusual scrutiny to the district’s figures.
“We have a school district that is all but broken,” said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, chair of Council’s education committee. “We have been misled for years … every year the district returns with open hands. We need change.”
Last year, under the leadership of former school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, the district coaxed $53 million in additional funding from Council. But, many Council members felt she tricked them when it became clear after the fact that despite Ackerman’s statements to the contrary during the budget process, the district did have money to pay for full-day kindergarten. Ackerman used the threat of eliminating full-day kindergarten as her primary bargaining chip in budget talks with Council.
The additional funds came from a property tax increase — the third consecutive year that real estate taxes went up. The experience has left Council gun shy.
“Where is this extra $94 million going?” asked Council President Darrell Clarke about this year’s additional monies, adding: “I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t think you need more dollars.”
Ramos said the district was simply providing Council with a snapshot of its finances.
“This is the reality of the state of district,” he said. “It doesn’t go away regardless of who is in this seat or your seat. The fundamentals don’t change. We’re showing in practical terms where things are today.”
Ramos emphasized that the SRC is examining its budget options and that the numbers discussed this week were “far from final.”
Though Council members asked many questions — including questions about the search for a new superintendent — transparency and accountability was a re-occurring theme.
“I want to make sure that whatever we do this year it includes long-term accountability, said Maria Quinones Sanchez, in statements echoed by several of her colleagues.
Traditionally, Council has little oversight of the SRC.
Councilman Dennis O’Brien, a former state representative, said the real responsibility rested not with Council but with the mayor and Gov. Tom Corbett, because they appoint SRC members.
“We have a dysfunctional conversation here,” he said. “We have an SRC presenting assumptions that only the mayor and governor can respond to. We are here as window dressing. There are two people who can change the conversation and that is the governor and the mayor.”
Ramos said the SRC has pressed the governor for his support.
“We’ve asked the governor for support in every way we can,” Ramos said. “We are asking the governor to work with the SRC on fiscal sustainability, but this can’t be done in quick sound bites.”
Council is conducting its budget hearings as a committee of the whole, and the education budget hearings drew every member of Council with the exception of Councilman Brian O’Neill.
I know it’s difficult, but try to generate a little enthusiasm about the upcoming municipal elections.
I don’t mean you have to have to slap posters and lawn signs on every available surface or sponsor a pep rally, but for the sake of the candidates, the least you can do is pretend to care — even a little.
Philadelphia is less than three weeks away from a rare turnover in city council, where for the first time since any of us can remember there will actually be more new members than old war horses. We have the opportunity to choose a new sheriff, city commissioners, register of wills, and a host of judges, both city and state.
We also have the chance to vote in a new mayor, but let’s be serious for a minute. Karen Brown? Really? Three years the city’s GOP leadership had to come up with a viable candidate, and the best they can do is a former Democratic committeeperson with zero experience and even less charisma.
Have you seen Brown’s television commercials? I saw one spot: a wooden, reading-poorly-from-the-cue cards Brown standing in front of a clearly made up street memorial. It appears Brown sent a campaign flack to the dollar store for a sympathy card, a candle, and a stuffed bear and just set it up on the nearest corner.
Her deer-in-the-headlights delivery is so awkward, the production value so painfully amateurish, that you forget she’s actually talking about the very real, very serious subject of street violence.
The poor woman is clearly way out of her depth, and thrust into a position where she can only look ridiculous. You almost feel sorry for her. I say almost, because politics, especially big city politics, is a contact sport, and the only way to toughen up is to get slapped around a few times.
To his credit, Mayor Michael Nutter isn’t taking potshots at his opponent, no matter how easy and tempting a target she presents. Actually, he doesn’t have to. By all but ignoring Brown, he robs her of any legitimacy she may have gained. When she made a factual error during their one and only debate, he corrected her like an impatient third-grade teacher.
Even though Karen Brown has a better chance of hitting the Powerball jackpot than winning the mayoral election, that’s no reason to stay home on Election Day, as for months experts have been predicting a low — perhaps even record low — turnout.
Admittedly, this election lacks drama. There’s none of the usual cutthroat negativity, to which we’ve become so accustomed; no neighborhood campaign rallies or door-to-door volunteers to speak of, and not much in the way of controversy, a rarity in Philadelphia elections.
One bright spot: This could be the first municipal election in Philadelphia without Marge Tartaglione as a shoo-in for city commissioner since Thomas Jefferson lived on Chestnut Street. Democratic voters, finally tired of the years and years of endless corrupt shenanigans, at long last jettisoned the feisty chairwoman in the spring primary, forcing her into retirement — albeit with a wheelbarrow full of our money as a consolation prize.
Also gone from the ballot, but not quite as forcefully, is longtime sheriff John Green, who retired under a cloud of mismanagement and missing money. Noted North Philly state rep Jewell Williams is waiting in the wings for the job, provided he wins as predicted over some guy nobody never heard of named Joshua West.
Does all this — new council, new sheriff and such — add up to a revamped, re-energized city government? To be honest, probably not. But it does provide the opportunity for citizens to make it clear to the newly elected officials that they’ll be held to a higher standard than their predecessors. It allows us to remind them of their obligation to the people, and make clear the consequences for failing to meet that obligation.
Good government doesn’t start with new elected officials; it starts with an engaged populace willing to hold those officials true to the tenets of their office.
All over America, you see the “Occupy Wall Street” protestors begin to hold bankers and financial institutions responsible for the mortgage and housing crisis, and their role in destroying our economy for their own profit. You see ordinary folks fighting back against their own politicians in Wisconsin and Ohio, and wonder if Philadelphians are fed up enough to do the same.
The first step is to show them we’re paying attention.
Mayor’s commission focuses on education, jobs
It’s impossible to say how many families in the Black community — and that’s just in Philadelphia alone — have been affected by the senseless violence that has a tight grip on African-American young people.
As of Tribune press time, the number of homicides in Philadelphia has climbed to 323, higher than last year’s total of 304 and significantly higher than the 2009 total of 298 when there was a noticeable decline. And the problem of this violence isn’t just endemic in Philadelphia — it is a national problem, with national consequences. The violence and the consequential fallout of incarceration and unemployment have depleted the presence of Black men in the community, said Mayor Michael Nutter at a recent meeting of mayors from across the country.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” Nutter said. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories, all of which contribute to a degradation of the overall quality of life in Black neighborhoods.”
According to figures from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, across the nation 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19. Across the nation, the major cause of death among the age group 10 to 24 is violence — and that violence is grounded in a sense of hopelessness, desperation and despair. It is also rooted in a potent subculture that glorifies murder and views incarceration as a rite of manhood.
“I’ll give Mayor Nutter credit for taking these issues seriously,” said Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “He’s been speaking out publicly, and he’s using his position as vice president of the United States Conference of Mayors to make this a national issue. His administration has engaged in a crime fighting strategy that initially saw a decline in the homicide rate and continuing reductions in other violent crimes. Nutter has also committed the School District to increase the school graduation rate and to double college attendance. So, yes, they’re doing some things right.”
Recently, Nutter re-established the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males. The group will eventually be composed of about 30 volunteer members tasked with addressing unemployment, incarceration, the lack of education and health issues among Black men.
Qayyum said he sees the major issues that need to be addressed as joblessness, poor education, what he referred to as a de-emphasis on education, increasing poverty and a serious loss of moral and cultural values among many African Americans.
“About 50 percent of the Black males in this city are jobless, and based on the current economic conditions, I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Qayyum said. “When you’ve got no job and little chance of getting one, you lose hope and act in desperation. As of right now, Philadelphia has become number one in terms of poverty.”
According to a recent report released by the city controller’s office, Philadelphia’s poverty rate of 25 percent outpaces that of the nation’s largest cities. Philadelphia’s poverty rate is higher than those of Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York. Detroit, which is half the size of Philadelphia, is higher, at 36.4 percent.
In terms of crime and violence, a snapshot of data from the Philadelphia police Department illustrates the depth of the problem. For just the first six months — January to June 2011 — young Black males, between the ages of 18 to 25 were at the top of the list of homicide victims and perpetrators. According to those statistics, in 2010, 122 Black males were murdered, as opposed to only 21 white males. In 2011, that number rose to 134, with only one white male added to their numbers. In 2010, 60 Black males between the ages of 18 to 25 were murdered and 61 in 2011.
“I was on-line looking at some reports on violence in our community recently. Now some websites you can’t trust of course, but the reports I was looking at were written in the 1970s and the issues then are still with us today — lack of jobs, poor education and poverty,” Qayyum said. “And there is a prevalent lack of a relationship to our values, our culture. When people understand who they are historically, they have a different perspective. Without that perspective, those values, you see the kinds of behavior we just recently saw with people fighting over pairs of Air Jordans. I think the mayor and the police commissioner are doing the best they can. But they can’t predict where the next crime is going to happen or change the minds of the people involved. Looking ahead to 2012, I would say they need to put more resources where the problems are. After doing their analyses and reports, concentrate their forces in those areas. And figure out how to increase jobs. Traditionally, when the economy is bad, Philadelphia lags behind. That hasn’t really been the case this time, we managed to maintain. But if we’re really going to turn things around we have to increase job creation and encourage people to start their own businesses. We have the reports, we’ve seen the statistics and we know what the problems are. We just have to roll up our sleeves. It’s not rocket science.”
Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of Mothers in Charge said much more community involvement is needed, along with more support for the families of murder victims.
“There’s not nearly enough support for these families and the emotional hardships they go through,” she said. “In terms of lowering the number of homicides I think that Commissioner Ramsey is doing the best that he can, but I would like to see the department engage the community more. I mean, the numbers of shootings are rising and so are the number of homicides — these crimes aren’t down. People are still reluctant to talk to the police, and if they really want to get in front of this issue they need the community. People need to know they’re going to get the full support of law enforcement.”
While extending its condolences to the families of victims of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, the U.S. Conference of Mayors – under the leadership of Mayor Michael Nutter – has asked the president and Congress for more stringent gun laws.
“We believe that with this latest national tragedy and the high incidence of gun violence that continues to plague our streets, we have reached a tipping point,” said the letter, signed by Nutter, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and five others.
The open letter, posted on the group’s website, was sent Monday to President Barack Obama and members of the U.S. House and Senate. It urged “immediate action” through executive order and legislation.
In addition to calling for tougher gun laws, the letter also asked that a national commission on violence be established, and pushed for more funding for the mental health system.
Gun control was the group’s most pressing concern.
“Again and again and again, Americans are stunned by senseless acts of violence involving guns,” said the mayors. “Friday’s tragedy targeting young children in Newtown is incomprehensible. Too many times this year, mayors have expressed shock at a mass shooting. Even more frequently, many of us must cope with the gun violence that occurs on the streets of our cities.”
In three bullet points, the letter urged a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines; advocated for a national background check, and harsh national penalties for straw purchasers.
Then, expanding concerns to what it called a “culture of violence” the group of mayors asked for a deeper look at violence and ways to end it.
“We know that preventing gun violence – whether it is a mass shooting in a school or a murder on a street corner – will take much more than strengthening our gun laws,” they wrote.
The conference urged lawmakers to set up a bipartisan commission “to look at the broader issues of violence in our nation so that a violent act isn’t the first response to settling a difference.”
Mayors also asked for more money for mental health programs.
“We need to strengthen and more adequately fund our mental health system, so that we can identify troubled individuals earlier and get them the help they need,” said the letter.
Phrasing in the letter echoed recent statements by Nutter, who has been a proponent of tougher gun laws.
Last week, Nutter condemned the shooting with nearly identical words.
“Again and again and again, Americans are stunned by senseless acts of violence involving guns,” he said in a statement released Friday. “Today’s tragedy targeting young children in Newtown is incomprehensible.”
Bloomberg has also been very public in his outrage.
“We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek. And, now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns,” he said in statements published widely after Friday’s shooting.
The large cuts to social service and education budgets that Gov. Tom Corbett included in his budget proposal could ultimately hurt the local economy, concluded a group of service providers this week after analyzing the numbers.
Not only will those cuts hurt recipients of social service benefits and students, they will force many service providers to cut employees, straining the social safety net even further.
“Organizations will have to eliminate jobs in order to survive,” said Jeff Wilush, president and CEO of Horizon House Inc., a mental health services company that serves residents in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. “Individuals now employed will lose their jobs and be forced to return for the services they now provide.”
According to Wilush, Horizon House relies on employees to maintain its level of service, with about 75 percent of the organization’s budget going to pay its employees. When state funding falls, the first and often only place service providers have to cut back is by slashing employees.
Wilush was one of about 60 people who met Thursday with Mayor Michael Nutter and other city officials at a special PhillyStat meeting to discuss the impact of Corbett’s budget.
Under Corbett’s proposal, state spending on many social service programs has been slashed 20 percent. In addition, funding for the state’s 14 universities was cut 20 percent. The three state-related schools: Temple, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh would see their funding cut 30 percent.
It is too early to determine exactly what the impact of the cuts will be.
In the social services area, Corbett combined six previously separate budget line items and lumped together their total funding under one heading. But, the state has not yet revealed how it will allocate those funds.
That leaves city officials and service providers guessing. But, everyone is tightening their belts.
“The staggering level of proposed cuts would literally shred to pieces the social safety net,” Nutter said.
Wilush anticipated that the eventually Corbett’s cuts would actually cost the state, counties and municipalities more money because by failing to provide services up front they would force people onto the streets and perhaps to crime leading to an increase in spending for corrections.
“The short-term gain of these cuts can only lead to higher long-term costs,” Wilush said.
It was the second year in a row that Corbett proposed substantial cuts to higher education funding. Last year he initially suggested cutting funding to state-related schools by 50 percent.
In Temple’s case, that was finally reduced to about 19 percent.
“Temple has responded by cutting millions from its operating budget, streamlining processes, eliminating redundancies and reducing administrative staff,” University president Ann Weaver Hart, who did not attend the meeting, said in a statement. “We have become leaner and more focused on a quality education.”
Over the last three years the school has trimmed $76 million from its budget. It would be impossible to maintain programs with further cuts, she said.
“The governor’s plan, however, is not one that can be met by cutting costs,” said Hart. “If approved by the General Assembly, this reduction in support will be felt by every student, parent and employee.”
The cuts come as Nutter is preparing the city’s budget, which will be unveiled on March 9.
Asked by reporters if the cuts — which total about $40 million for the city — would spur a property tax increase, Nutter said it was too soon to tell.
“Your question is tremendously premature, and we’ve had no discussion about that,” said the mayor. “We do not know at this point how, as a city, we would try to deal with the magnitude of these cuts.”
The city has raised real estate taxes the last two years as it battled its own budget woes.
Council urged to block mayor’s recent order
Mayor Michael Nutter may have bitten off more than he can chew with his new ban on feeding the homeless in public parks. Opponents of the policy, enacted last month, flooded City Council’s meeting Thursday to ask council to somehow block the ban.
They accused the mayor of trying to curtail their religious freedom, their civil rights and of contradicting the teachings of Christ. Nutter, citing health and sanitary concerns, and worries about personal dignity and access to services, recently announced a policy that bans large scale feeding of the homeless in public parks. It forces food donors to serve meals indoors — at places where the homeless may also have access to the services many of them need.
No one who spoke at Thursday’s council meeting supported the mayor.
“Would it be sanitary, would it give dignity to have homeless people eat out of trash cans and dumpsters?” asked Veronica Joyner, founder of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, where students are required to help feed the homeless as part of the school’s curriculum.
According to statistics read by Joyner to council members, there are about 13,000 homeless people in Philadelphia. Joyner noted that many are veterans and have substance abuse problems.
Joyner and about 10 of her students were part of a group of more than 30 people, many of whom brought their Bibles and quoted from them, who signed up to speak during the meeting.
All of the speakers supported Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s call for council to hold hearings on how the policy would affect the homeless. Many wanted council to go a step further and block the policy.
Blackwell introduced a resolution two weeks ago calling for hearings on the issue. A vote was expected Thursday. But, as the meeting started to take on the air of a church service, complete with one man — Reggie Marrow — singing during his allotted time, Council President Darrell Clarke, after a quiet sidebar with Blackwell, ended all speeches on the topic.
“We get your point,” Clarke said.
In the end, Blackwell held the resolution, delaying a vote for at least one more week.
“We decided to hold it such that if we wanted to amend it, or can work out some compromise, that we get another opportunity to do that,” she told reporters after the meeting.
It was a move that will also keep the pressure on the mayor.
“Certainly as long as it’s on the calendar, the public has the right to come and say what they think,” she said.
The mayor’s s office said the policy is not official and wouldn’t be until after administration hearings.
“The Parks and Recreation Commissioner will have a hearing in the near future on the proposed regulation,” said Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald. “Thereafter there is a process lasting a number of weeks before the reg is official … the administration … will be creating a taskforce of stakeholders to work toward bringing all outdoor food serving into more dignified and safer indoor settings.”
If Blackwell’s resolution passes, council’s Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless will hold hearings on the impact of the ban. What steps she might take after that depend on the findings.
Council cannot compel the mayor to rescind his policy, Blackwell noted, but hearings would increase political pressure on the mayor to rethink it.
According to the Rev. Brian Jenkins, pastor of Chosen 300 Ministries, coalition of churches across the city has been formed to oppose the policy.
The group takes exception to Nutter’s policy on several grounds.
Jenkins said it was a violation of civil rights.
“Separate but equal was abolished in 1954,” he said.
For Erica Moulinier, it stepped on her right to worship freely.
“It creates bureaucratic barriers to compassion,” she said. “For many of us, feeding is not only an act of compassion, but an act of faith.”
Adam Bruckner, founder of Philly Restart, a group dedicated to feeding the homeless, even took offense to the mayor’s choice of words – when Nutter announced the new policy he used the phrase “outdoor feeding.”
Feeding is for farms,” Bruckner said. “We serve meals.”
One man tied the new rule to the opening of the new Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“It really looks like an attempt to hide the homeless,” said Brett Anderson, who then quoted the Bible. “For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat.”
Nutter announced the ban in mid-March. At the time, he also said the administration would come up with a new, long-term approach to feeding the hungry within 90 days.
The mayor pitched the policy as one centered on public health and safety concerns, and as way to assist people needing food and shelter.
“Aside from the dignity provided by sitting down at a given time in a given place for a nutritious meal, an indoor location enables the city and its partners to offer health, mental health, housing, a place to receive mail and other needed services to this very vulnerable population,” Nutter said at the time.
Nutter added that until the many groups that feed the homeless outside and those that have indoor facilities can coordinate their activities, the outdoor groups can feed people on the apron at city hall.
Large scale feeding, which used to happen in Love Park and on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Family Court building have been moved to the apron.
In other news, council passed resolutions honoring fallen firefighters Lt. Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, who were killed Monday while fighting a fire in an empty warehouse in Kensington. Both men were killed after a wall in an adjacent building collapsed on them.
Council unanimously passed a resolution honoring the memory and service of each man with a standing vote.
Finally, council also passed a resolution “calling for justice” in the Trayvon Martin case.
The resolution, introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown two weeks ago, passed just one day after Martin’s accused killer George Zimmerman was arrested, and 45 days after the incident that resulted in Martin’s death.
“Two weeks ago … we did not know whether the family would ever see this day,” Brown said. “We now know they will be given their day in court. We will all be given the opportunity to find out just what happened on Feb. 25.”
Fifteen new apartments, dedicated exclusively for housing homeless veterans who need assistance with mental health or drug issues, were opened this week in the city’s Point Breeze section.
A ribbon cutting ceremony officially opening the facility, called Patriot House, was held Tuesday afternoon, June 19, with Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and officials with CATCH Inc., who will operate and manage the property, in attendance.
“No one who has ever worn a uniform in the United States of America should ever find themselves homeless — should ever be without service,” Nutter said. “They served the country — we now have to serve them.”
Thirteen one-bedroom units and two efficiencies are spread across three renovated row homes in the South Philadelphia neighborhood, just two blocks west of Broad Street near Federal Street.
“Veterans, whether they’re serving now, whether they’re returning home, whether they’re retired — they should receive nothing else but the best services this country can offer,” Johnson said.
Each apartment comes equipped with central air conditioning and a washer and dryer. It also comes with supportive services provided by CATCH. They include a case manager to help residents with substance abuse, health care, budget preparation, adult literacy, stress management, job readiness, life skills and home safety. It also provides a van service for residents.
“This is a city based on redemption,” Nutter said. “It’s not how many times you get knocked down — it’s how many times you get back up. Every one of us has needed a helping hand at some point in our lives.”
While there are few reliable statistics on homeless veterans in Philadelphia, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that, nationwide, there are 67,000 veterans sleeping on the street each night. Roughly 56 percent are Black or Hispanic. The majority of them are single, come from urban areas, and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About one-third of the entire adult homeless population are veterans.
The $3 million project was made possible through a mix of federal and local funds along with private financing. CATCH is a South Philadelphia-based non-profit that has been providing behavioral health and intellectual disability services since 1979.