Feb 9, 2022 - News

Philadelphia shelters navigate inflation and supply chain issues

Illustration of empty store shelves, with a sign that has a shrug emoji on it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Philadelphia shelters are scrambling to manage inflated costs and supply chain issues as the pandemic rages on.

  • It's left some, like Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission CEO Jeremy Montgomery, questioning: "Is this sustainable?"

Why it matters: About 5,700 people are considered to be homeless in Philadelphia, and 950 are unsheltered, according to the city Office of Homeless Services.

  • And the recent Omicron surge has taken a toll on the city's already short-staffed shelters, where workers have been fighting to balance the needs of vulnerable residents while reducing COVID spread.

The big picture: Inflation and supply chain delays are driving prices up for goods across the country.

  • The core Consumer Price Index increased by 0.5% in December after rising 0.8% in November, according to the U.S. Labor Department's latest report.
  • Food and gas prices jumped 5.5%, the highest since 1991.

Zoom in: The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission's budget for purchasing food in 2019 was $69,000. For fiscal year 2022, that figure is projected to balloon to $380,000 due to increased costs and a significant dip in donations.

  • Montgomery said they're unable to rely on donated food from local universities and restaurants like in the past.
  • "The availability of donated food to use has simply been eliminated," he said.

Meanwhile, furniture delays had prevented the shelter from moving anyone into its fourth floor residential hall, which was renovated in September, until last week.

  • The shelter also ordered an air conditioner compressor for its roof in June that still hasn't arrived yet because it's on backorder.

The Bethesda Project, on the other hand, is dealing with the rising costs of paper and cleaning products as well as personal protective equipment.

  • Yes, but: Donors have stepped up to the challenge. Contributions to the shelter increased from 18.6% of total revenue and support in 2019 to 21% in 2021.

What they're saying: Elizabeth Anuw, the Bethesda Project's director of operations, told Axios the shelter has learned to roll with the punches as it navigates the new normal. This ranges from ordering alternative products that have more availability to becoming more flexible on delivery times.

  • "We've had to manage expectations a little bit and make sure we have what we need and don’t run out," Anuw said. "We make sure we can maintain a stockpile so that if things don’t arrive on time, we’re not out of luck."

How to help: Both the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission and the Bethesda Project are welcoming donations.


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