Philadelphia, March 15, 2012 – Yesterday, Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced a series of actions designed to encourage hungry Philadelphians, and those who feed the hungry outdoors, to move to indoor locations over the next year. Check remarks against delivery. The prepared remarks follow:
“Since I became Mayor, our Administration has worked every day to protect and support our City’s vulnerable populations. We managed through a severe Recession and made sure to minimize the budget impact on those Philadelphians without resources or the means to secure them.
While the City has worked hard to reduce the number of homeless people during the recession, we’ve had neither the means nor the ability to prevent an increase in hunger. And we know that access to food is vital for individual and community health.
Today, I am announcing a new policy initiative aimed at increasing the health, safety, dignity and support for those vulnerable individuals who now gain their daily and often less than daily sustenance from well-intentioned people distributing food on City streets.
And first, let me say that for many years people of good conscience have fed the hungry on the streets of Philadelphia. I very much appreciate their efforts. But I believe we all can do better. I believe that if we join together, marshal our good will and resources, that we can help vulnerable, hungry people of Philadelphia in more effective ways.
Too often, I’ve driven past Love Park or along the Ben Franklin Parkway and seen people lined up in front of a van, shivering in the cold and rain, huddled in the dark. And sometimes they’re lined up but no van or car ever appears.
The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection can do better than this. I believe that people regardless of their station in life should be able to sit down at a table to a meal – inside, away from the heat and cold, the rain and snow, the vehicle exhaust and distractions of the street.
As many of you know, the Board of Health is considering a proposed regulation to ensure that the food served outdoors by volunteers meets some standards for food safety, as we do with food served to those who can pay for food from a restaurant or food cart.
The proposed regulation, which I strongly support, would require some of a group’s volunteers to take a free safe-food-handling course and encourage groups to use food-safe kitchens, which have been visited by Health Department inspectors.
These measures would help the department track any food-borne illness back to its source. Guarding the public against illness is at the core of the Health Department’s mission and its duties extend from diners in upscale restaurants to hot dog vendors … and those who want to help the vulnerable.
Meanwhile, over the past months, Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity Donald Schwarz and his team have begun a dialogue with many of the outdoor feeders. He has been encouraged that many of them have begun to consider partnering with those who manage indoor feeding locations.
Many of these indoor feeding groups would welcome the added volunteers and resources. And so, city government has begun to play a facilitating role by bringing together these two different groups with different strategies but the same overall goal.
We have begun to provide the names and addresses of indoor feeding sites to those who currently feed hungry people outdoors, and soon, we will give the names, addresses and food service times of indoor feeding locations to hungry people who wait for outdoor food distributors.
Now, aside from the dignity provided by sitting down at a given time in a given place for a nutritious meal, an indoor location enables the City and its partners to offer health, mental health, housing, a place to receive mail and other needed services to this very vulnerable population.
In short, we can use the distribution of food in a way that will help our neighbors gain access to resources that can help them get on the right track toward independent, healthy living.
And we should not pass up the opportunity to offer these vital supports to the vulnerable as they partake of a meal. Indoor feeding can help make this a reality.
I understand that over the last 20 years, outdoor feeding has evolved to what it is today. I also understand the strength of old ways and habits, but there are some who simply will resist our efforts to enhance the dignity, safety, health and supports for vulnerable Philadelphians.
In recognition of that, today I am announcing that my Administration will take the following steps immediately so that within a year’s time hungry Philadelphians will no longer need to eat outdoors.
First, I have instructed the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation to issue a regulation that would ban outdoor feeding in all City parks. It’s our intention that this regulation will be enacted tomorrow and goes into effect in 30 days. This regulation will not affect family picnics or permitted events in parks.
Second, as part of the transition process, I have instructed the Commissioner of Public Property to establish a temporary food distribution location on the City Hall apron. All outdoor feeders who want to use the City Hall apron will be required to sign up with the Department of Public Property and reserve the days and times for their activity.
Those who wish to provide safe food will be welcome to do so, and we will try to coordinate their feeding to assure a more balanced, predictable schedule for the hungry. And let me add that the City will provide water and porto-potties on the apron.
This location will be available for up to one year because as we enhance the linkages between the hungry and the groups that now provide thousands of meals indoors, we hope that there will be no need for outdoor feeding in Philadelphia any longer.
Third, I will create a working group of external stakeholders and senior Administration staff to devise a plan over the next 90 days to engage those who eat outdoors in order to help them move indoors to eat. At the same time we will engage with those of good will who want to provide food to do so indoors.
Through education and other steps, the working group will seek to identify supports for the hungry and to connect current outdoor feeders with those who manage indoor facilities and with other outreach efforts to the hungry.
A final note before I take your questions:
My administration and previous ones have discussed these issues for many years.
Some will assert that we’re taking these actions because of the Barnes Foundation, the reborn Ben Franklin Parkway, the Sister Cities Park and the efforts that have been made to transform this space into welcoming places for all people, families and children.
Let me be very clear on this point: this is not about people. This is about activity. It’s not about who is on the parkway but how it is used. My motivation is not to exclude people. Anyone can walk the Parkway, visit our fantastic cultural institutions or just sit on a bench and contemplate the day. Anyone and everyone.
Again, the issue is not who can use the Parkway because it’s very clear that everyone is welcome. The issue is for what or how the Parkway is used.
Providing food to those who are hungry must not be about opening the car trunk, handing out a bunch of sandwiches and then driving off into a dark and rainy night.
I don’t believe food should be served from the back of a car on the Parkway or in Love Park or anywhere on the streets and sidewalks of our great City.
As a City and community of caring individuals we must do more and we will.
I want any hungry person in need to know that they can go to a clean, dry, brightly lighted place where friendly people employing the best food handling techniques will serve good food, a place where people trained in the social services can offer hope and a way back to independence to hungry people in need.
Outdoor feeding in Philadelphia is not up to our standards. We can and will do better.