Know Homelessness

Understanding The Problem


How many people are homeless in Philadelphia?

About 5,700 are considered to be homeless in the city, which includes about 950 who are unsheltered. Philadelphia has the lowest number of street homeless per capita of any of the largest cities in the US.

Why do so many people experience homelessness?

Homelessness is caused by many factors; poverty, inability to afford a place to live, falling outside the system all make it more difficult to meet requirements for housing. Sometimes mental illness contributes. The Opioid crisis has caused many new people to become homeless. Homelessness in Center City is more visible now due to construction and fewer public spaces for people to live unnoticed. Kensington also has high numbers, but it is a city-wide issue.

It is important to understand that not all people that are on the street are homeless.  Some are travelers, passing through from city to city, without means or desire for housing.  Many panhandlers are not necessarily homeless, but no less in need of aid to break the cycle.

Why don’t you just move people?

It is not a crime to be homeless or to have a mental illness. Nor is it a crime to sit, occupy or sleep in public spaces. We do not arrest people for being homeless. An arrest decreases their opportunities to become housed and raises the costs for the public sector. We are working to find a way to offer aid to those in need of a place to live, while protecting the rights of residents, businesses and visitors.

Why are people walking around with bags full of stuff?

In all likelihood the individual is not in one of our programs or they are more comfortable being surrounded by their possessions. Hoarding can be an indicator of mental illness, but part of the tragedy of homelessness is that people lose everything so they may naturally hold onto whatever little they have. The City’s emergency housing programs do generally provide storage for people’s belongings.

Efforts to Combat Homelessness


What is the City doing about homelessness?

Together with our many nonprofit partners, the City provides 11,503 emergency, temporary and permanent “beds.”   Last year we helped 970 families and individuals from-homeless-to-housed. Our permanent housing programs have an average 90% success rate in preventing a return to homelessness. Even with these efforts, the supply of affordable housing doesn’t keep pace with the demand.

What does Homeless Outreach do?

Outreach engages street homeless individuals on a daily basis to offer hope, resources and opportunities, such as emergency shelter, treatment options for mental health and substance use disorders, medical services, etc. It focuses on developing trusting relationships with individuals on the street, through ongoing rapport and consistency, that assist individuals in addressing barriers to coming inside.

Outreach can:

  • Offer housing options for those who are interested
  • Transport those who are interested to housing, medical, psychiatric, or other resources
  • Call in a “302” (involuntary psychiatric hospitalization) in situations that warrant action
  • Never give up on an individual and continue to engage them until they are ready and willing to get off the street and connected to necessary supports and services

Outreach cannot:

  • Physically move people
  • Move people’s belongings or clean up any trash they may have left behind
  • Address illegal behavior (this is for police)

Check out this infographic on Understanding Homelessness:
http://www.understandhomelessness.com/

Homeless Outreach is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 215- 232-1984


The City’s Office of Homeless Services (OHS) provides coordination, planning, leadership and funds to support the work of our citywide provider network. OHS works in close partnership with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disabilities (DBHIdS) which provides outreach, treatment and recovery services.   We all work closely with the Philadelphia Police Department to protect residents and visitors.

What should I do if I see someone in immediate danger to themselves or others?

Call 911 and ask for the Crisis Intervention Team (C.I.T.).

What about if I see a drug deal happening, see someone using illegal drugs or believe someone has overdosed?

Move away quickly and call 911.

What about drug treatment?

The City has added hundreds of treatment beds this year in response to the Opioid crisis. Call 215-546-1200 for more information.

What should I do if someone asks me for money?

Panhandling is NOT illegal; it is considered free speech.

(It falls under the same laws as charities and Girl Scout cookie stands).  It has increased dramatically with the Opioid epidemic. The desire to give money to someone in need is generous, but it can also be counterproductive. If you want to help, we recommend:

  1. Buy One Step Away, the homeless newspaper
  2. Make a donation to your favorite nonprofit
  3. Text SHARE to 80077and $5 will be added to your cell phone bill to provide more services.
  4. Offer to provide food or water as an alternative

Questions for Commercial Corridors


What if someone is blocking my business doorway or sleeping in my alcove or alley?

People are not allowed to block entranceways to buildings, ATMs, impede passage on the sidewalk, or sleep in a private alcove or alleyway.  “Camping” in tents or with mattresses is illegal and they can be removed after the individual has been notified.

If someone is blocking your entryway, or you feel unsafe, move away quickly and call 911. Police will be dispatched and can require the person to move from the property. They cannot arrest them for simply being there, but can ask them to move away from the property.  Just sitting or even sleeping on a sidewalk is not illegal, so long as they are not blocking passage. If you feel threatened, tell the officer immediately.

How does the program work?

When you call 911 a police officer will be dispatched to appraise the situation, if no crime is being committed, and there is no legal action to be taken, the officer is then required to call Homeless Outreach Services to follow up with the individual.  

What is someone is selling something on the street? What if the person panhandling is aggressive?

Panhandling, or begging, is not illegal, however, street vending without a permit and aggressive panhandling are both illegal and should be reported immediately.

No one should feel threatened when walking to their home or business. Move away from the person and call 911 immediately.

What should I do if I see someone urinating or defecating in public?

This is illegal. Call 911.

Is there anything I can do to help?

You should feel free to talk with people who are experiencing homelessness. They appreciate being treated humanely.  You can be aware of the services in your community and direct the individual to them.

We welcome your partnership. Please give us a call if you would like to be more involved!