Targeted homeless outreach in Philadelphia focuses on hot spots

    Homeless outreach workers (from left) Tom Felder  and Donnell Stokes talk with Larry Hawkins

    Homeless outreach workers (from left) Tom Felder and Donnell Stokes talk with Larry Hawkins

    The city of Philadelphia is tweaking its approach to homeless outreach as workers now focus on specific areas — and help those in need with individualized services.

    The new approach comes in the wake of increased complaint calls about homeless people and panhandlers in Center City. Some of those complaints pertain to new homeless gathering spots.

    “There has been a lot of construction in Center City where some people may not have been visible now may be visible,” explained David Holloman, director community outreach for the office of supportive housing. “It’s more of an approach to go out and engage those individuals — who are they, what do they want, and are we able to assist them with the resources we have.”

    Teams are focusing on specific areas based on need, he  said.

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    “What we did was look at some of our maps and some of our data that we currently collect, to see where people are popping up,” he said. “This is also an educational campaign to the community that outreach is out here, they are out here every day of the week.”

    Outreach workers now wear bright orange uniform shirts to be more visible.

    Around lunch time on Monday, outreach worker Tom Felder was talking to a young man sitting on Arch Street near the Pennsylvania convention center,  one of the new hot-spot areas. The man was holding a sign that read “veteran, please help.”

    Felder asked him if he could do anything for him, but the young man declined.

    “So far, he hasn’t expressed a willingness to accept any of the services that we offer, but through consistency we hope that eventually he will,” said Felder.

    Felder’s team stays focused on the area around the Convention Center;  he says it often takes many attempts before someone is ready to accept help.

    Many of the homeless have mental health and substance use issues. Outreach workers are trained to recognize these issues, and refer those in need to special services.

    “For example, we have programs called safe havens — specialized shelters designed for people who have mental illness and substance use,” said Arthur Evans, who heads the city’s department of behavioral health.

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