A low-cost solution to homelessness

Homelessness is not just a Philadelphia problem, it’s a national problem and worse where 1) the weather is mild and 2) there is little political will to do anything about it — looking at you L.A. and San Francisco.

Ada Lewis school can provide shelter

At the outset, the homeless are citizens and they do have rights. Being poor and homeless should not be a crime, and a recent appeals court decision held that the homeless cannot be moved off public property if there is no public housing facility for them.

Having space is therefore mandatory.

Philadelphia does not have enough shelter for all the homeless, and many homeless avoid the shelters because of fear of other homeless people, who may have mental problems, and/or may be thieves. The mentally ill require their own column, one that may require forced treatment. 

Let’s deal with what I think is an easily solvable problem — where to find shelter for the homeless, a current issue now that homeless have been moved off Vine Street.

I have located eight buildings scattered around the city that can be rehabbed into shelters.

They are eight shuttered buildings owned by the Philadelphia School District. Here they are:

  • Ada Lewis Middle School. 6199 Ardleigh St. 
  • Fairhill Elementary School. 601 W. Somerset St.
  • Thomas FitzSimmons Middle School. 2601 W. Cumberland St.
  • Shallcross Day School. 3901 Woodhaven Rd.
  • Harrington Annex. 800 S. 53rd St.
  • Morton Annex. 6200 Grays Ave. 
  • Carino Bonaventure Pre-School. 2834 Hutchinson St
  • Fels Junior High School. 1001 Devereaux Ave.

They are sitting unused while homeless people are desperate for shelter. 

Getting the buildings from the school district should be no problem.

What will be a problem is they are configured as schools, with classrooms. 

How hard would it be to turn a classroom into a dorm? Not very.

Who would do it and for how much?

The building trades unions could be talked into doing the work for cost or less.

The entire building would not have to be rehabbed, just what is needed for the homeless, who would then have a permanent address, which helps in finding employment. Men and women would be on separate floors. Security and staffing could be handled by a nonprofit partner.

Want to go crazy? If the first and second floors were to be turned into separate dorms for men and women, how about turning the upper floors into small, permanent apartments for the homeless? Their rent would be fixed at, say, 25% of their salary, once they are working.

Am I understating the difficulty? Perhaps.

Or perhaps not. What life teaches me is that very little is impossible if you put motivated people in charge.

Surely this city has the handful of people necessary to make this happen. 

19 thoughts on “A low-cost solution to homelessness”

    You are correct, sir. Although you simplified the problem, the truth be told is that when people get together to formulate a plan, brain storming will succeed.
    Christmas has passed. Little Christmas has passed. Now take down the Christmas decorations and put up the Valentine
    decorations !

  2. It could be a mistake to rely on government to solve this problem. An increase in supply would make housing more affordable. Increasing incentives to those who will build more housing may be he simplest, if not the easiest, solution. Incentives would be a reduction in regulations and allowing builders to emply non-union workers. It is unlikely that Philadelphia will embrace these incentives, in my opinion.

    1. Robert,
      Allow me to inject some knowledge.
      Habitat and other organizations like them, build with mostly volunteer help and lots of donations. Regardless of the state, the Uniform Construction Code requires work to meet minimum building codes. in almost every area, the mechanicals ( electric, plumbing, HVAC ) has to be done by licensed contractors.
      A project of this magnitude requires an immense infusion of money. The problem with the government, is that by the time the money filters down to the actual project, at least 30% of the original dollar is eaten up by the bureaucracy.
      I have often said that if I were hit the jackpot, I would bill housing for our Veterans. Accessible housing can double the cost of construction. Consequently, a few million dollars doesn’t go very far – but it would be a start.

  3. Sounds like a good idea.
    I recall when hi-rise projects were heralded as the remedy for urban housing problems. However, subsidized housing nightmares seem to have intensified after decades of immeasurable government programs. There’s got to be a better way.

    1. It is NOT the height of the building. That’s why hugh rises in Center City charge a fortune. It is WHO you allow in the buildings and what behavior you prohibit. I spent part of my youth in a Brooklyn housing project and it was WONDERFUL. Bad actors were ejected and the rest of us cheered.

      1. I was too many times reluctantly, a necessary visitor to tall housing! Most definitely the WHO ruined it for those in need of a subsidy.
        Personally, when I travel, I will sleep no higher then the 2nd floor.

  4. Stu,
    Good on you to peel the mentally-ill off from the others. “Homeless people” are not a monolith, they are a bunch of different groups facing different challenges that need different kinds and levels of help if anyone’s going to deliver a constructive ‘hand up’ and actually reduce the problem. Here in Canada, where our climate is a particular disincentive to being homeless, about 60 percent are transitory, homeless for a year or less. Many of these are women and kids escaping a bad marriage, abuse, desertion or something like that. Most often what they need is a stable place to live while they get their lives sorted out, maybe go back to college to get some marketable skills, find a job, and move forward. We’re all better off if they succeed at this.

    Those with mental issues, as you note, are a different kettle of fish, and need a different kind of help. Recycling unused public buildings sounds like an eminently sensible thing to do. Equally important is to understand that it ain’t a single problem, it’s a bunch of different circumstances. Some more easily addressed than others.

  5. I took my wife into town yesterday (love the free rides on SEPTA!), to lunch in Chinatown. We were appalled at the number of homeless living in tents under overpasses, or curled up in sleeping bags on any sidewalk available. I cannot even begin to think of a way to address the problem; many of the homeless are sick, druggies, alcoholics, borderline lunatics, etc. The thought that the City can house them and get them jobs borders on the ludicrous.
    Sometimes we have to accept that “the poor will always be with us,” and simply find some workable way to feed them, get them warm clothing, and… then what? How do you house thousands of people who barely know what day or time it is? Let’s be brutally honest: if there were a way to solve this problem once and for all, it would have been done. NO city (or the pols that run it) wants visitors to see what they are forced to see every day on the streets of any city in the USA. Some problems will be with us forever, like head lice or Progressives.

      Let’s be brutally honest . Corruption and greed are two of the reasons that we have ghettos and the homeless on the street. As Stu said to me above, simplify the problem . BUT FIRST IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM !
      Yes, there will always be the poor, and conversely, there will always be the rich, etc. It’s called capitalism. Unfortunately, Greed rears its ugly head often. I can make more money by sending the work overseas. I can make more money by screwing the world. Socialism and communism will solve that problem for you OR make everyone accountable and responsible for their actions.
      We will always need someone to cut the grass, sweep the street and other honorable menial work. These are the people that you give a “hand up”, not a “hand out”. We turned this country into a sad deplorable state of confusion. Then to be sure that we put more people down, let’s legalize every drug that is going to destroy your brain.
      Vince, it’s complicated but not overwhelming.

      1. woopsie. forgot.
        I used to ride the “EL” when I with the PWD. It was free as you say, but I gladly would have paid for the “entertainment”.

      2. Mr. Clark, you may recall from some years ago the story of the town (in New Jersey, I believe) that linked welfare payments to work. A woman who was assigned the ‘job’ of wiping the benches in the city parks complained that doing such ‘work’ was ‘demeaning.’

        Here is a suggestion: every person/family in Philadelphia that has a net income of over $500,000 has to take a homeless person into their home for a one-year period.

        1. still HAPPY SATURDAY !!!
          Mr. Benedict,
          Don’t know why we’re standing on formalities. I believe that you’re referring to when the Trenton Mayor tried to clamp down on welfare recipients. I don’t remember what High court shot it down, but the law went down in flames.
          Please explain to me why you want to penalize some of the people that I know. They earned their money. They employ people and they pay their fair share of taxes. It is no more right to suggest that the wealthy take in the homeless, than it is to say that if you don’t believe in abortion, you should take in a baby.
          In this small space, I (we) can’t really fully express ourselves. I am saying, to put people to work were they are best qualified or suited. This is not the C.C. Camps mentality. There is no dishonor in honorable work. I have washed dishes, bused tables, washed windows, huckstered and pretty much anything else I could do to make a buck. I had help along the way and I’m thankful for it. In return, I do what I can as I make my way through life.
          Therefore Vince, I respectfully disregard your suggestion and insist that we go with my idea – which is not original. Get the money off the Gov. Keep their hands off ! Surround yourself with a few KEY professionals and watch it start off slow and then gain speed. Pretty much sounds like our President to me.

          1. Mr. Clark: I wasn’t aware that asking those who are well off to house and aid a homeless person was tantamount to ‘penalizing’ them. I wasn’t taking aim at the successful as some sort of envy factor, merely suggesting that the rarefied atmosphere at $500,000 would enable those that well off to comfortably aid the homeless, uh, at home. No matter what the effort, a lot (a LOT) of money will have to be spent, even if the ‘key professionals’ donate all their time pro bono.

            Your optimism is delightful to observe.

    Stu was trying to simplify this very large complicated problem. There is nothing “low cost” about it ! Mr Vince Benedict would like you, the wealthy, to house a homeless for a year. Vince didn’t suggest that that homeless person should work for his keep, etc. I personally know of wealthy families that hire a nanny and will make room for the spouse as well. That spouse just became a grounds keeper, chauffeur, whatever, to justify his room and board.
    Here’s a long answer to the housing problem, not a solution. Should you decide to take over an old abandoned school and convert it to housing, Stu suggested dormitory style living quarters. Per Uniform Construction Code, you are now building an Institutional Project. In all probability, ALL of the mechanicals will get ripped out, including electric. The first floor would be almost entirely handicap accessible, unless you have elevatorS. The cost would be enormous, but well worth it. As Stu pointed out, the housing is part of the package. You want to sleep here, you will work for that right. No handouts !
    And yes, Mr Benedict, I believe that you would be penalizing the wealthy. My wives and I have housed friends of our children, for various periods, because they were essentially homeless. That’s called volunteering.
    Then there is your sarcasm. I am not deaf, dumb, blind, nor optimistic. The country is in the current state that developed mostly through graft, greed and corruption. Everybody has their hand out, looking for payola. Those that are being taken care of, find themselves employed by a government agency or vendor, who isn’t qualified to change a light bulb. (does Hunter Biden sound familiar )
    Perhaps your comments are better served replying to cartoons on facebook.
    That’s enough venting for one day. I hope.

  7. Mr. Clark: Thank you for the (long) response. Please understand: I was not being sarcastic about your optimism (your belief that the problem can be solved — or at least greatly ameliorated). I was sincere. I am a pessimist when it comes to solving problems that seem to have been with us forever, but you sincerely believe they can be handled by the goodness of people (not the greedy ones, the ones willing to trade pelf for people). I on the other hand believe some problems are unsolvable. Like trying to make peace in the Middle East. Anyway, your ‘venting’ is okay– just you expressing a heartfelt opinion. That’s what Stu is encouraging — the exchange of ideas.

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