Women, Children Shed Light on Philly's Homeless Problem

By Daralene Jones, Denise Nakano and David Chang
|  Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013  |  Updated 7:48 PM EDT
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A recent protest from a group of desperate mothers with nowhere to go has brought attention to the homeless problem in the city. NBC10's Daralene Jones has the story.

NBC10.com - Daralene Jones

A recent protest from a group of desperate mothers with nowhere to go has brought attention to the homeless problem in the city. NBC10's Daralene Jones has the story.

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It's something that Bianca Sewell hasn't had for a long time: shelter.

"It's not permanent," Sewell said. "But I have a place to go."

Sewell was part of the group of homeless women and children who gathered outside of Philadelphia's Office of Supportive Housing on Tuesday, claiming they had ran out of options and had nowhere else to go. The group slept outside the building on 15th and Cherry after staying there the entire day in protest. The women claimed the city agency that was supposed to help them had turned them away. 

“They have no room for me and my five boys,” said Georgianna Lawton, who is recovering from a C-section after recently giving birth to her fifth son. “Where am I supposed to go?”

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Another homeless mother, who did not want to be identified, says she lost her job in customer service at Philly International Airport. She joined the protesters and brought her 3-year-old son with her after they ran out of money to pay for a motel room.

“This is real when you can’t go to someone who is supposed to help you and get the help from them,” the woman said.

Cheri Honkala, a former homeless mother and currently a homeless advocate, says she’s helped find shelter for the homeless for two decades.

“The problem is out of control,” she said. “I’ve never seen it this bad in 20 years.”

Honkala tapped into all of her available resources and asked local restaurants to share leftovers. One local pastor brought in blankets as well as water and prayed for the mothers and their children.

“They have no idea where they would be,” Honkala said. “They would be sleeping on a bench by themselves in a very dangerous situation.”

On Wednesday the group went inside the office to try and receive shelter, which is so limited in the city that the homeless must enter a lottery in order to earn a spot. There are currently 24 shelters in the city,1500 beds for women and children and 1000 beds for single people. Every day, they're at full capacity. 

The city recently launched an anti-poverty campaign and is in the middle of a 10-year plan to fight homelessness.

FULL DOCUMENT HERE

City funding for the program has remained steady. In 2012, the city had $94 million in funding, $89 million in 2013 and $92 million for 2014. The money goes to the city's existing shelters as well as programs and long-term solutions for the homeless.

City leaders say the problem is funding at the federal level. According to officials, federal funding for the homeless has dropped. In 2009, the city received a $23 million check from the federal government to help provide permanent housing for Philly's homeless population through the Housing Authority. That check dried up by the end of 2012. 

"Supporting people who find themselves in that kind of circumstance is a big priority for us," said Mayor Michael Nutter. "But again, additional funding certainly from the state and federal government would be very, very helpful." 

Until then however, the city will continue to have to find solutions on their own to help fight the growing problem. 

As for Sewell, she says she was fortunate enough to receive temporary shelter for tonight.

"They gave me tokens to get to where I needed to go," she said. "It's safe and it's gonna be warm." 

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