Plans for homeless during Pope Parkway visit ongoing

Attendees gather on the Ben Franklin Parkway during the Welcome America 4th of July Jam earlier this month. (MICHAEL PRONZATO / Staff Photographer)

Plans for Pope Francis’ visit to the Parkway will include considerations for the homeless who frequently sleep there, organizers reiterated Wednesday.

Tuesday a homeless man approached Mayor Nutter outside of City Hall and tussled with a member of his security detail. Nutter had to pry the man off of the aide. The man later told NBC 10 that he was upset over plans to clear the Parkway of homeless people during the World Meeting of Families and papal visit, Sept. 26-27.

Organizers said Tuesday that’s not entirely the plan.

The Parkway will be completely cleared to enable a security sweep at some point before Pope Francis’ arrival but everyone – including those who are homeless – will be permitted back in through security gates, said Will O’Brien, a project manager at PROJECT Home, who has been working with the World Meeting of Families to ensure the homeless are treated fairly.

“One mandate of the committee (on homelessness and hunger) was to protect the dignity and rights of people who are homeless to make sure no detrimental treatment,” O’Brien said. “In the Philippines you saw hundreds of homeless bussed out of the city and no one wanted that to happen here.”

Philadelphia Police will spearhead the Parkway clearing, O’Brien said, along with staff from the Office of Behavioral Health and Office of Supportive Housing to provide assistance.

Once fences go up and the Parkway re-opens (ideally a few hours later, O’Brien said), the homeless will be able to enter through security along with the huge crowds.

“Everyone will have to be moved out and then the fence will go up and our understanding is once the fence is up anyone should be able to go in and out of the security gates,” he said. “They would be subject to same restrictions around things that can’t come in,” he said.

An official list of prohibited items has not yet been released.

O’Brien estimated about 150-200 people sleep on the Parkway during the summer months. Project HOME has already started sending people out to talk with people ahead of the visit, alert them to what will be happening and see what they want to do.

City officials have said no one will be permitted to camp out on the Parkway overnight Saturday Sept. 26.

“If a significant number of folks want to go somewhere else – we will see if there are alternative placements,” he said.

Another question is whether feeding programs will be permitted that Saturday and Sunday. More than a dozen groups typically provide food to the homeless on the Parkway.

Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, stressed plans are still very much in flux.

“From the very beginning it’s been important to us that the dignity of those less fortunate, those who live on the street, is respected as we get ready for the huge crowds that are coming,” she said.

She said the Committee on Hunger and Homelessness, set up by the World Meeting of Families, is looking into potentially reserving some of the ticketed seats near the front of the stage for people who have experienced homelessness.

“This has been a pastoral priority of Pope Francis,” Farrell noted, “His Christmas gift was sleeping bags for the homeless, he’s putting in showers in Saint Peter’s Square, we would be remiss if this was not something we’re considering.”