In a city with more than 1,000 unsheltered homeless individuals, according to the Office of Homeless Services’ most recent point-in-time count, which was completed last year, there’s only so much a city can do. Sometimes it takes the work of good-hearted and hardworking people willing to go the extra mile to make ends meet.
Last week, temperatures in Philadelphia dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, triggering a Code Blue emergency citywide. During a Code Blue, the City of Philadelphia implements additional measures to preserve the lives of chronically homeless individuals and keep them safe from the winter chill.
Essentially, the city finds ways to temporarily house these individuals through methods of filling vacant beds in shelters, implementing outreach teams to assist in keeping people safe. But in a city with more than 1,000 unsheltered homeless individuals, according to the Office of Homeless Services’ most recent point-in-time count, which was completed last year, there’s only so much a city can do.
Sometimes it takes the work of good-hearted and hardworking people willing to go the extra mile to make ends meet.
One of those people is Buddy Osborn. He’s the pastor and founder of a Kensington-based worship organization based in Calvary Church called Rock Ministries.
It was his idea for Rock to open up a giant heated tent next to the church at Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street that holds 45 cots for those in need.
“During the day we open it up, we offer help to the homeless veterans, and we offer detox to those in need,” Osborn said. “We provide a safe haven for them.”
Technically, you don’t have to be a homeless veteran to gain access to the tent, but the homeless veterans are especially near and dear to Osborn’s heart because of their dedication to the country.
Osborn is also a chaplain for Philadelphia Building Trades, the umbrella organization for the more than 50 member local unions that work in the construction industry in the greater Philadelphia region. As a result, homeless former tradespeople and carpenters are near and dear to his heart as well.
“There’s quite a few people who are former building trades workers like carpenters and tradesmen who stay in the tent,” he said.
According to Osborn, the tent went up at some point in mid-December. It’ll stay up until March 31. It’s the second year in a row the tent, which is heated by propane, stayed up all winter. Osborn said the tent was funded by donations from the community.
“We have people who believe in what we do, and they’re gracious enough to support it,” he said.
Last week, during the Code Blue, Rock had a particularly disheveled diabetic man named Robert come in seeking shelter. Before sending him directly to the tent, Osborn and other members of Rock Ministries brought him inside for a shower, Osborn said. They washed all seven layers of his clothes before placing him in a cot in the tent.
“It was the first time he laid in bed in months,” Osborn said.
According to the Office of Homeless Services’ point-in-time count, there were 5,788 total homeless people in Philadelphia — both sheltered and unsheltered — in 2018. That’s a slight uptick from the previous year’s figure, which was 5,693. Since 2015, the total number of unsheltered homeless people has increased by 62 percent and the number of sheltered homeless people has decreased by 12 percent.
According to the report, the point-in-time count is an annual count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. It provides the homeless assistance community with data needed to understand the number and characteristics of persons who are experiencing homelessness. The unsheltered population includes people sleeping on the streets or a place not intended for human habitation and staying in overnight cafes on the night of the point-in-time count. The sheltered population includes people experiencing homelessness who are staying in an emergency shelter, safe haven or transitional housing project.