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Families & Community

How Philadelphia is helping its homeless during the Democratic National Convention

homeless man
Pedro Ribeiro Simoes / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0
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The Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday in Philadelphia, and it's expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the city.

And while attendees may know Philly as the City of Brotherly Love, they may be less aware that it's home to roughly 15,000 people experiencing homelessness – around 700 of them unsheltered.

During the DNC, extra resources are available to homeless residents.

Money in the city's budget for the convention is paying for 110 more beds throughout the city, and about 20 more outreach workers than usual, according to Philadelphia Magazine.

Workers are helping the homeless find resources and are alerting them to new regulations in effect during the DNC. The city implemented the same plan when Pope Francis visited during his trip to the United States, according to ThinkProgress.

Laura Weinbaum is with Project HOME, an organization that coordinates outreach to Philadelphia's homeless. She told ThinkProgress:

It was pretty effective. The time the Pope was here was a pretty major event and pretty stressful and disruptive time for people, but as far as we know there were no involuntary commitments to shelters. I think we have a fairly good system in place. The practice made this a little bit easier.

The city seems to be taking a more compassionate approach over methods sometimes used by cities during big events.

Ahead of the Republican National Convention, the city of Cleveland enacted "event zone" regulations that interfered with the rights of about 100 homeless people living within the zone. The rules were successfully challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

When Pope Francis visited New York City, dozens of homeless people were moved from encampments – a move that sparked outrage from targeted individuals, as well as homeless charities, according to the Daily Mail.

And according to NPR, when Detroit hosted the Super Bowl in 2006, the city held a Super Bowl party for the homeless at the Detroit Rescue Mission. Some saw it as way to hide them and "polish the city's national image." Aaron Coleman, who was homeless at the time, attended the event. He said:

This is the first time they've ever done anything like this. They've never had the city actually fund anything really to help these people around here as far as getting all of these homeless organizations together to combine, to feed everybody down through here. No, it's never happened before. Now, all of a sudden, because we got all these out-of-towners coming, we want to put on a big farce.

Liz Hersch is director of Philadelphia's Office of Supportive Housing. She tells Philadelphia Magazine the new resources are not about hiding the city's homeless:

It will be a very intense, very crowded situation so we want to offer respite to people on the streets to get them out of the streets.

And even though the extra resources are only available through the end of July, advocates hope the temporary solution leads to long-term help. Weinbaum told Philadelphia Magazine:

It is definitely our hope that by the opportunities that these beds present, we’ll be giving people that first step on a path towards recovery, towards housing stability or towards getting the physical or behavioral health care that they need as well as some placements in some longer term housing.

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