White said the impetus for the city's decision came from several demonstrations by the Committee for Dignity and Fairness for the Homeless, an advocacy group that includes many homeless and former homeless people. In January, the group held a sit-in outside White's office at the Municipal Services Building, demanding that 50 percent of all jobs at shelters used by the city be filled by homeless people.
While the city has not agreed to a fixed number of such jobs for the homeless, White said, shelter operators "would have an affirmative requirement to hire qualified homeless people first."
According to officials at the city's Division of Adult and Aging Services, the city has contracts with 85 facilities to provide emergency shelter for the homeless. Some of them are large shelters, but officials said most are boarding homes and are generally small.
A recent Adult Services survey found that the 85 facilities have 557 employees and that about 20 percent of those employees have been drawn from the ranks of the homeless.
"Adult Services has been a major employer of the homeless for some time," said Daniel Stone, director of the agency. "It's a commitment we have had, and so it was no problem for us to have that commitment down in writing. It should be understood, however, that the number of jobs involved is not that great."
Leona Smith, director of the Committee for Dignity and Fairness shelter, said yesterday that her group was pleased with the city's commitment.
"If the city is allocating money for sheltering homeless people, some of that money should be going to homeless people," Smith said. "The city knew we were prepared to continue our demonstrations, and we're glad that we don't have to now . . . But we'll certainly be monitoring to make sure they live up to the agreement."
Early this year, the Philadelphia Housing Authority - at the request of city officials - also agreed to assign priority to homeless people on the waiting list for subsidized apartments.
The issue of shelter jobs for the homeless came to a head with the January opening of the Pennsylvania Shelter for the Homeless Inc., a large facility at 1209 Vine St. in Center City. Members of the Committee for Dignity and Fairness complained that homeless people were not being hired, although shelter director Bud Goldstein disputed that contention.
Goldstein said yesterday that he had not heard about the proposed contract language on hiring the homeless but that he had no problem with it.
"We've been hiring our residents from the start - for maintenance, carpentry, laying tiles, everything," Goldstein said. "We pay them well, and, except for the alcoholics, we've had good results.
Peggy Holtzman, administrator for Adult Services, said the agency survey found that officials at nearly all facilities that house the homeless for the city had expressed a willingness to hire the homeless.
Under the proposed contract language, the city would monitor the hiring of homeless people four times a year. According to Stone, operators not making what the city considers a sincere effort to hire homeless workers would be penalized, possibly with the loss of their contracts.