Homeless Grant Decried As Paltry

Posted: June 11, 1989

"I want to know how you can take $50,000 and help all the homeless and low-income people in Chester," said William Day, who is homeless and living at the Wesley House shelter in Chester.

Day's comment to Chester Mayor Willie Mae James Leake came in response to a decision by the City Council on Wednesday to spend $50,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for a homeless homesteading program proposed by Delaware County Jobs With Peace.

"That's a start to give you two homes and get the program started," Leake said.

"That's not enough," cried the homeless people gathered in the council chambers.

About 30 supporters of the proposed homesteading program had camped outside the municipal building Tuesday night in hopes of persuading city officials to allocate $250,000 in community development funds for homes for the homeless.

Nearly a dozen people staged a sit-in in the council chambers after the meeting Wednesday morning in protest of the decision to limit the allocation to $50,000. Eight protesters were arrested and removed from the chambers at closing time by police. They were cited for disorderly conduct.

"Fifty thousand dollars is a joke, Mayor Leake!" exclaimed Terry Rumsey, coordinator of the activist Jobs With Peace group, when the council announced its decision during the meeting Wednesday.

"Take your seat," said Leake as Rumsey continued, saying that 75 people had turned out at a January meeting to say that the homeless problem should be a number one priority for funding and that 1,500 signatures had been collected in support of the program.

Leake ruled Rumsey out of order and had an officer remove him.

After the meeting, Leake said, "We are concerned about helping the poor. . . . We've been doing that for the last 15 years."

Leake said the Wesley House, a shelter where many of the those at the meeting now reside, attracted people from all parts of the county and Philadelphia.

"We're getting people from all over," Leake said. "It's creating a situation."

Leake said her staff had been directed to set up two houses for the homeless homesteading program.

The program proposed by Jobs With Peace calls for the city to buy vacant houses, fix them up and allow homeless people to live in them while they pay back the cost of rehabilitating the houses.

But the $50,000 allocation won't even make a dent in the problem, according to members of Jobs With Peace and the homeless at the meeting.

"It's an insult, given the level of the housing crisis in this city," Rumsey said. "The mayor wants to throw crumbs when people need a loaf of bread."

"They have so many torn-up houses in Chester that are just sitting," said Maryann Winston, who is living at Wesley House with her husband, Sam, and 3- year-old son. "They could put families in them."

"Give us a chance, that's what we're asking," Sam Winston said.

Sam Winston said he camped out "to get my son a home so he can sleep under his own roof."

"I'd rather be working than living on welfare," said George Clifford, who's been homeless nearly a year. Clifford has lived at Wesley House since

December. Before that, he said, he was living at the 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby and on the streets.

"It's not like I haven't slept in this weather before," said Clifford, referring to the rain during the campout Tuesday night.

Clifford said he has had trouble finding a job because of a medical condition.

"We're trying to ask the mayor for $250,000 out of $2.2 million for a housing program for homeless people," he said.

Clifford was one of the eight protesters arrested when they refused to leave the council chambers at closing time Wednesday. Also arrested were Regina Perry; Candyce O'Donnell; Ken Craig and William Day, all of Wesley House; Rumsey; Chuck Jarman, an organizer for Jobs With Peace, and Ed Rodiguez.

The council unanimously approved the proposed list of community development grant allocations.

The funding totals $2.29 million, which includes $850,000 for residential rehabilitation, $200,000 for police security, $200,000 for rehabilitation of homestead properties; $458,000 for administration; $200,000 for demolition of hazardous structures, and $140,000 for economic development operations.

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