Adam Bruckner of Philly Restart, who volunteers to provide services and ID cards to people who show up for food on the Parkway, shares his opinion on Philadelphia’s recent ban on feeding homeless outdoors. Adam was recently heard on WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane.
“What’s the greatest nation in the world?” the man asked me on the outer loop of the Ben Franklin Parkway at 19th Street. Before I could give a patriotic response he boomed, “DO-NATION. Can I have a dollar?”
I used to give panhandlers $1 and walk away. It was the easiest way to deal with whatever stirred inside of me when I saw someone begging. I would wonder why they didn’t get a job instead of working the sidewalk, and after many dollar hand offs, I stopped and asked. I was shocked to find that there were sober sane men and women who wanted to work. Many didn’t have the proper ID, and needed ID to get ID. And though they wanted jobs, most of their days were spent trying to get food to survive.
Once I heard their stories, these men and women were no longer statues to glance at, they became my friends. And I wanted to help, so I brought food and got them proper identification. It was laborious and expensive, but we found a way. And Calvin, Fila, Pete, Tyson, Jeremy, and Shirley told some of their friends, who told their friends, and before I was ready for it, we had started a program.
For 10 years, Philly Restart has been meeting on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Mondays at 4pm. We share a dinner together, and help those friends of friends to get their ID. Many come for the good food, and 5,000+ a year for the ID help. For us, it is loving our neighbors and treating others as we would want to be treated. We have more food than we need so we give to those who don’t have enough. It’s simple; we share.
Gatherings like ours leapt to the front page last Wednesday (March14th) when Mayor Nutter called a press conference to address the homeless meals in Philadelphia. Before diving into the tension, I want to say that I love this country, love this city, and respect Mayor Nutter. That being said, I disagree with the ban on “public feeding” in the parks of Philadelphia, and “these steps” from the city. From the press conference notes:
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“These steps are designed to address a number of concerns that the City has about current outdoor feeding: human dignity, health and food safety, the lack of social services being provided, and the appropriateness of this activity in our city parks.”
There are some wonderful indoor facilities in Philadelphia (but few in Center City) that serve the homeless; not nearly enough to meet the need of the hungry. Mayor Nutter noted that he was sick of driving down the parkway and seeing men standing in the rain, snow, and heat waiting for food.
Unfortunately, these are the conditions they will sometimes have to walk through before standing outside in line to get into that indoor meal. We do not believe that dignity comes from sitting at a nice table alone. We believe that dignity is more likely connected to having choices (where to eat, and meal options). We believe that when we treat people well, are sensitive to their religious preferences (no pork), serve them good food and share in their lives with them, it is far more likely to lead to a feeling of self-worth and hope. And that relationship builds trust which allow us to help.
There have been no reported issues of illness from meals on the parkway. Many in our lines choose our dinners over shelter meals. We care about healthy and safe food, and were meeting with the city (the month before the surprise press conference) to ensure we met their standards.
3. Lack of social services.
Ironically, the social services (mental health, ½ way houses, rehabs, shelters, etc.) refer clients to us on the parkway for help with their ID’s. They can’t engage clients until they get the proper identification. And we have a Project H.O.M.E. volunteer at our meal that attempts to assist those reluctant to go inside.
4. Appropriateness on the parkway.
This seems to be the least talked about, most relevant issue. With the Barnes Foundation opening in mid-May, it is difficult to ignore the dust raised from the broom sweeping up the area. Their stretching lines are coming at the same time ours are prohibited.
I don’t pretend that our dinners are the long term answer. Yet, moving the meals off the parkway does not curb homelessness and hunger, only the appearances of them.
A more practical and positive next step would be to form a collaboration of the services already available. Too many of us are disconnected from each other. In response, Philadelphia FIGHT has been working on a thorough resource guide (paper and online) to help groups like ours. And beyond this, our group focuses on the youth living in poverty, looking at prevention as well as this complicated homeless intervention.
There is no formula. Some of the homeless will not go inside for meals, especially those that are a mile away. Some of the poor would rather riffle through the trash, eat food left on benches, panhandle, or depend on stealth volunteer dinner drop-offs if the ban is enforced.
We are hopeful the City of Philadelphia will reconsider “encouraging groups to move inside.” It has not felt encouraging. And let’s stop calling these meals “public feedings.” These are moms, dads, children, Philadelphians, and beyond. Feedings are for farm animals; meals are for people.
We don’t think that starving people off the parkway into cafeterias is the answer. Especially when those indoor facilities have not been able to cover the need created by an atrophied economy and swollen population of the poor. If those places were available to meet the demand, our lines would evaporate.
We do love this city of brotherly love. We are simply opposed to restrictions on when, where, and how we love our brothers.-30-
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