Mar 21, 2024 - News

Philadelphia cracks down on homelessness at airport

An illustration of shadows pointing fingers and struggling to deal with a homeless person

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As homelessness rises in the city, Mayor Cherelle Parker's administration is looking for help combating a surge in unhoused people at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Why it matters: With dozens of people sheltering at the airport, city officials are concerned about how their presence impacts the safety and experience of millions of travelers who pass through the facility every year.

What they're saying: Some travelers have complained online about their experiences, while airport employees report harrowing encounters with people experiencing homelessness, PHL spokesperson Heather Redfern tells Axios.

  • One employee said a person tried blocking her from accessing a restricted part of the building, Redfern says.

Driving the news: Last month, the city issued a bid seeking an outreach group to help reduce the "presence of unsheltered individuals" at the airport and make for a "more pleasant" experience for everyone.

  • The group must create a "curriculum" for airport staff that outlines how to deal with the unhoused population and human trafficking.
  • They'll also be tasked with connecting people experiencing homelessness with services, providing essentials such as food, water and blankets, and transporting people to drop-off centers within 20 miles of the airport.
  • City officials didn't say how much they're looking to spend for the services, and the price will be dictated by whoever wins the contract, which begins July 1 and runs through June 2025.

The big picture: Looking to put her stamp on the direction of the city in her first year, Parker is taking a hands-on approach to the homelessness problem.

  • She has proposed spending $143 million on her top priorities, including $16 million for emergency housing and $33 million on public safety.
  • It's part of a broader five-year plan to invest $60 million into housing efforts to improve homeownership among Black and other residents of color and increase the city's housing stock by 30,000.

Yes, but: Parker scrapped construction of a tiny home village in Northeast Philly — a project greenlighted by former Mayor Jim Kenney — that would've provided shelter for dozens of women age 55 and older.

The other side: The homeless advocacy groups Axios contacted didn't respond or declined to comment.

Catch up quick: During the pandemic, hundreds of unhoused people were temporarily allowed to stay at one of the airport terminals as city homeless shelters had less capacity because of coronavirus restrictions.

  • The arrangement was short-lived, and people were relocated to shelters in the region.
  • The airport restricted access to the facility to travelers and employees.

During counts in January 2023, the airport's homeless population, who gather in common areas, such as restrooms and baggage claims, was recorded between 43 and 75.

  • An airport sweep earlier this month resulted in police issuing more than a dozen citations, per the Inquirer.

Zoom out: Homeless encampments that sprouted up in airports across the country, including in Denver and Chicago, have been disbanded by officials who raised similar concerns about unhoused people's impact on travelers.


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