Fattah's Homeless Plan A Done Deed

Posted: March 16, 1989

HARRISBURG — A Philadelphia state senator has proposed a new program to help the homeless, unaware that his plan is already in practice in the city he represents.

Sen. Chaka Fattah yesterday told a press conference that he has a "common sense" plan to use vacant School District and city-owned buildings as homeless shelters.

He called for inventories of public buildings that are not scheduled for other uses. He said his plan would save money and help ease homelessness in Philadelphia and across the state.

He also said he was unaware of any such plan now in place, and that he had not talked to the city or the School District about his idea.

He should have. Philadelphia currently uses public buildings to house the homeless.

"Yeah, that's been done," said Jane Malone, the city's director of the Office of the Homeless.

Philadelphia School District spokesman William C. Thompson said the district transferred an elementary school at 17th and Brown streets to the city for housing the homeless.

Malone said a former city warehouse at 39th and Spring Garden streets is being used for the same purpose.

Fattah last night confirmed he was unaware of the practice in Philadelphia.

He said, however, his plan calls for statewide action, and that there might be other public buildings in Philadelphia that could serve as shelters.

Thompson said the School District now has only four vacant buildings, all scheduled for future use. City Housing Director Edward Schwartz couldn't be reached for comment.

Fattah also said Philadelphia could save money now spent on private contractors for shelter space by using more public-owned facilities. He acknowledged he did not know what the city spends for that purpose.

Malone said $15 million per year is paid to contractors for shelters. She said a total of $21 million is spent for temporary and permanent housing to combat homelessness.

Fattah said his proposal should be the subject of a public hearing and that ''if even one building in Lackawanna County can be used to house a homeless family, it will be worth it."

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