As the days grow colder, homelessness in Philadelphia becomes painfully more apparent. Holding doors, peddling their stories - legitimate or not - in exchange for change, sleeping atop steam vents to escape the cold of Fairmount Park and our abandoned underground, winter sweeps in and turns a nuisance into a heartbreaking reality for all but the most cynical pedestrians.
With the closure of the Spruce Parker Hotel at 13th and Spruce, some former residents have found themselves with nowhere to go at the worst possible time. You don't need to interview homeless men and women to see it. You just need to walk around Washington Square West in the early morning and you'll see those who once called the Parker home, or just an occasional warm bed.
For all the ills that came with the Parker Hotel, it offered a small reprieve for those we'd rather forget. Some are drug addicts, some of them prostitutes, but for all the homeless, they have found themselves in a very dark world nearly impossible to escape.
Conservative estimates state that nearly 40,000 of America's homeless are military veterans. In 2013, according to a HUD survey, there were 440 homeless vets living in Philadelphia with more than 1400 in the Commonwealth. The numbers skyrocket in sun-drenched Los Angeles where "Skid Row" appears on Google Maps as if it were simply the Fashion District.
In Philadelphia, we have no more answers than Los Angeles, Seattle, or Miami. And whether or not we ever understand every single instance of homelessness, we have the means to give back a little more than the food in the back of your pantry. And it doesn't have to be a solely city or state funded effort. With a little good will and a sense of civic pride, Philadelphia has more than 200 rooms awaiting those in need.
U.S.Vets-Phoenix is converting a hotel in Arizona through donations. For $2000, a company or individual can pay for the renovation of one hotel room to be offered as affordable housing for one of the state's homeless veterans.
The Spruce Parker Hotel has never been a desirable venue. At best it will sit vacant for years. At worst, it will be demolished for a parking lot. Why not solicit donations to convert the place into affordable veteran housing? Similar housing exists in Philadelphia, but largely to provide a place for those in danger of losing what they have, not those who've already lost.
With the right campaign, the Parker could provide volunteer counseling, medical care, and security in a sober place for rehabilitation. Sure, it could become dorms, apartments, or condos. But there is plenty of land for profitable development to build from scratch. The Parker exists in tact, and doesn't need to be much more than it already is, not for those who need it. Why not turn something with such a dark and nefarious past into a beacon of something greater? Hope.