Winter Offensive Homeless Advocate Demands Meal But Won't Talk With City Officials

Posted: November 11, 1986

A former homeless man who now heads a campaign to help people still on the streets has vowed to throw open City Hall on Christmas Day to feed the homeless there.

"We're determined to go in there," Chris Sprowal, president of the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Union of the Homeless and the National Homeless Union, said last night.

He said homeless leaders would face arrest if necessary. "We want the doors of City Hall to be thrown open (and) the homeless people to be invited there," so they can be fed on Christmas, Sprowal said.

Similar events in the past have been staged at a shelter at 20th and Spring Garden streets run by the Committee for Dignity and Fairness for the Homeless, which Sprowal founded and also still heads.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Goode said the plans "were already in the works to feed the homeless in City Hall on Thanksgiving."

"If Chris Sprowal is interested in feeding the homeless in City Hall on Christmas," the mayor would be "delighted to sit down and talk with him about it," said the spokeswoman, Karen Warrington.

Sprowal said his group had not contacted city officials about the Christmas dinner or other plans because "they're not the people for us to speak to."

He said the Christmas dinner was both a "symbolic gesture" and part of a ''winter offensive" planned by advocates of the homeless in eight U.S. cities to "guarantee that no homeless person dies on the streets of our cities this winter."

Details were to be announced at a press conference tomorrow at the Spring Garden Street shelter.

The offensive includes plans for a takeover Jan. 19 of recently repossessed Veterans Administration housing in the city and for "tribunals" Feb. 14 of religious and labor leaders, community activists and others to hear the homeless testify about "the impossible vicious cycle" of living on the streets.

"We just think it's sort of like crazy that we have buildings paid for with our tax dollars standing vacant, boarded up, and we have people homeless," Sprowal said of plans to populate the VA housing with homeless

families and women with children.

Sprowal accused the city of violating an agreement it reached last year with leaders of the homeless and of turning some people away from the city shelter services.

He also said his group would stage a campaign beginning Dec. 1 to keep the city from putting additional money into the shelter system, because "shelters are not the answer. Homes and jobs and educational programs are the answer."

Irene Pernsley, director of the City's Department of Human Services, defended the city's program for the homeless, stating it was "not perfect" but "improving" all the time. For instance, she said, officials hope soon to expand a pilot job-training program the city initiated for the homeless last year.

"It's not our policy to turn people away" from city shelters, Pernsley said. She said when the city investigated such complaints in the past, it found that they involved people who objected to their shelter arrangements and who returned to the city agency seeking other accommodations.

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