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.
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.