Parks and Recreation Centers

OVERVIEW: Homelessness in Parks, Recreation Centers and Playgrounds

Sleeping on Benches

There is no ordinance that prevents people from sleeping on benches. However, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) designs park fixtures to discourage park users from lying down.

Personal Belongings in Parks and Playgrounds

People are expected to take their personal belongings with them when they leave the park. PPR staff works with the Philadelphia Police Department and other City enforcement agencies to remove unattended personal belongings left at the park for an extended period of time.

Disruptive Behavior

No person may interfere with the safe and efficient operation of a PPR facility or obstruct the flow of pedestrian traffic, nor may they disrupt programming.

A Team Effort

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) is ultimately responsible for PPR facilities, natural lands, trails, and historic sites. PPR staff works with the City’s Office of Homeless Services, Department of Behavioral Health, and Philly Police to coordinate homeless outreach, services, and enforcement.

Outdoor Meal Service

Who is allowed to serve meals outdoors?

Individuals and organizations are permitted to serve meals in public spaces, such as parks.  Individuals or organizations serving are required to obtain a free food safety permit from the Health Department, and participate in a food-safety training. This permit should be visibly posted during meal service.

What are meal providers expected do before and after meal service?

Individuals and organizations serving meals in parks are expected to follow the rules that govern the use of parks for all residents. This includes carrying out any food or trash that was brought into the park. All users of the park, including meal servers, are expected to ensure that their activities, including meal service, do not result in litter or short dumping. Meal providers, as with all guests, are expected to collect the trash that results from the meal (including plates, utensils, leftover food, etc.) and carry it out of the park after the meal is completed. This means not leaving the trash in or beside park trashcans.

We also strongly encourage meal providers to sit with their guests and share the meal. This promotes dignity and a sense of community for the meal guests.

If you see an outdoor meal provider serving without a food safety permit or leaving trash behind you can contact 3-1-1 or the Office of Food Protection at 215-685-7497.  It is helpful if you can ask the provider for contact information for the Office to follow up, and note what time and where they were serving.

Understanding the Problem

How many people are homeless in Philadelphia?

At the January 2017 Point in Time Count, 5700 people were counted as being homeless, of those, 965 people were counted as being unsheltered. Philadelphia has the lowest street homelessness rate of big cities even though we have the highest poverty rate.

Why do so many people experience homelessness?

Homelessness is caused by poverty: lack of money to afford a place to live and food to eat. 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 is the other area with a high concentration of homelessness.

What is the City doing about the homelessness problem?

Philadelphia, like communities all over the country, is working to address this issue as well as an uptick in panhandling. The City and our many nonprofit partners have developed a system of emergency, temporary and permanent housing with nearly 12,000 beds.

Our permanent supported housing programs have 90% success rate in preventing a return to homelessness. In 2015, we achieved functional zero in Veteran’s Homelessness.  Most recently, we established the Shared Public Spaces Workgroup to engage business, civic and hospitality leaders to help bring new energy and leadership to the problem. We invite all our citizens and visitors to donate or volunteer to a charitable homeless service provider. When they have more funds and help, they can do more to solve the problem.

What You Can Do

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

Call 911.

What should I do if it isn’t an emergency, but a recurring behavior?

Call the Homeless Outreach: 215-232-1984.

What if someone seems to be mentally ill, like not being dressed for the weather, talking to him or herself, etc.?

You should feel free to talk with people who are experiencing homelessness. They are also human and appreciate human contact and connection. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, please call Homeless Outreach at 215-232-1984.

What should I do if someone asks me for money?

Panhandling is not illegal. It is considered to be free speech by the courts, so the police do not arrest people for panhandling. The desire to give money to someone in need is kind and generous, but it can also be counterproductive. Panhandling is often linked to addiction. Fewer than half of all panhandlers are homeless. We recommend the following alternatives:

  1. Buy the One Step Away newspaper, which is a bridge to employment and services
  2. Text Share to 80077 to make a donation to the support housing, jobs and services
  3. Volunteer
  4. Make a donation to your favorite nonprofit

Panhandling is not illegal. It is considered to be free speech by the courts, so the police do not arrest people for panhandling.

What should I do if I see someone urinating or defecating in a park, feel unsafe in a park, or witness drug use or drug dealing in a park?

Call 911.