Homeless man endorses emergency city shelter at West Phila. High

Posted: October 30, 2012

AS RAIN WHIPPED West Philadelphia on Monday afternoon, a steady stream of the weather-weary arrived at the city shelter at West Philadelphia High School. Among the parents and children was Mark Jones, 53, who said he normally sleeps in Center City subway stations because he fears the chaotic conditions in homeless shelters.

"This is ten times better than the homeless shelters. This gives the truly homeless two to three days of rest. Normally we only get one to two hours of sleep a night before the SEPTA police put us out," he said, standing at the doorway of the emergency shelter. "They put us out in any kind of weather. If you get wet and you're outside, that's bad if you're homeless."

Jones, who said he became homeless in 2010 after his landlord's tax problems led L&I to shut down the apartment at Jessup Street and Lehigh Avenue where he was living, gave the West Philly shelter a ringing endorsement. He learned of it over the weekend while online at the Benjamin Franklin Free Library in Center City, and walked to the shelter Sunday night.

"So far, it's been pretty good. They're keeping a watch on everyone so nobody steals. It's not too crowded. The cops are here, that's good," Jones said, adding that the snack food is also good and plentiful.

Lamont Smith, 26, spent Sunday night at the West Philly High shelter and was planning to stay put until the storm passed. This is the first time Smith has stayed at a shelter. Since April, he had been staying with a friend on 62nd Street near Delancey, but that rowhouse is across the street from Cobbs Creek and is likely to take on water, he said.

Before leaving for the shelfter, Smith said, the roof already had begun to leak. The West Philly shelter has proven a good substitute for home, he said. "They made sure I got a care package," which included a bar of soap, a shaving kit, toothpaste, shampoo, a comb and a wash cloth, he said.

"I have a cot, pillow, coffee whenever I need it. Everything I need is at my disposal. It's better than being on the cold street," said Smith, who works in landscaping and is soon to become a father for the fourth time.

As the day wore on, some businesses around the city closed early, including Brown's ShopRite at 67th Street and Haverford Avenue. It shut down at 4 p.m. instead of 11 p.m., the regular closing time. Along parts of Cobbs Creek Parkway, wet road became puddles, then pools of standing water. The parkway remained open as of 4 p.m. Monday.

Contact Mensah M. Dean at deanm@phillynews.com or 215-568-8278. Follow him on Twitter @MensahDean.

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