Many walking around Center City Philadelphia Friday were fuming with anger and confusion.
With the secure perimeter in place for Pope Francis’ visit, scores are being forced to take longer walks, and then go through airport-style checkpoints to get to their destinations.
Center City resident Mercedez Polion was within blocks of her apartment when she hit a fence. Literally. Transportation Security Administration officials told her she had a long walk to get to the next checkpoint for entry to the secured area.
“This is crazy. It’s supposed to be a joyful occasion,” Polion said. “But they have made it so stressful and inconvenient. It’s not right.”
Polion, who said she was excited about the pope, said the police-state feel of Center City is souring her mood.
“My knees are bad, and now they’re forcing me to walk all over the place,” she said. “That should’ve been a contingent plan for people who live in the neighborhood and are disabled, that they would have special access. This is ridiculous.”
TSA officials are confiscating items – including fruit – that could be used as a projectiles. Bikes also are not allowed through the checkpoints.
It’s not just pedestrians whose routines are being interrupted by the pontiff’s historic visit.
For nearly 20 years, homeless advocates have provided free meals to those without permanent shelter on public space on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
But the security infrastructure that accompanying Pope Francis is complicating that tradition this weekend. The Parkway is a popular site for Philadelphia’s homeless, and the city moved them to make way for the papal festival and Mass.
It’s ironic, said Brian Jenkins of the advocacy group Chosen 300, because Francis himself once lived in the slums of Argentina and has made outreach to the poor a priority.
The Saturday meal on the Parkway is sometimes the only meal some of the people get all day, Jenkins added.
The closest parking spot he could reserve to distribute food was on Spring Garden.
“We have to literally cart our food 15 blocks in order to get into Benjamin Franklin Parkway. We’re hoping that we can even get in with the food,” Jenkins said.
If the food convey is thwarted by security, there’s a backup plan that involves a Wawa next to the public park.
“So we ordered $1,250 worth of hoagies to make sure that we can have food no matter what for the homeless population,” he said.
City officials have said that homeless people can come back into the Parkway area through the security checkpoints, and food vouchers will given out to them.
But Jenkins said that’s no substitute for the mass feeding so many rely on.
“The homeless and disenfranchised, we have turned our nose down at, and have said that, ‘We are not really here to help you,’ and it’s a shame what this administration has done,” Jenkins said.