The former John Wanamaker junior high school, at 1111 Cecil B. Moore Ave., will be the first converted shelter in Philadelphia’s “Project Brotherly Love,” aimed at housing former Gulf Coast residents who were left homeless by Hurricane Katrina last week.
An initiative by Mayor John Street, “Project Brotherly Love” will house about 1,000 families in the city, or roughly 3,000 to 5,000 people.
Street called Wanamaker, adjacent to Temple’s campus, the “home base” of the project.
Most of the work on the Wanamaker shelter was done by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Street said. During a short speech Monday afternoon, Mayor Street thanked the large number of volunteers from Temple who helped without invitation.
“Many Temple students came,” Street said. “We didn’t even have to recruit them. They just came to help.”
Wanamaker will serve as a welcoming center for the first wave of displaced families, Street said. After arriving in Philadelphia, hurricane victims will be processed in the school’s gymnasium. Street said families would not be confined to the school, and encouraged them to experience more of Philadelphia.
“We’re going to take them to the Liberty Bell,” Street said. “We’re going to take them to football games and baseball games.”
While Philadelphia Housing Authority employees said the converted junior high would contain 276 beds, Mayor Street said the number of people the school would house would be based on the number of families. The authority may convert more rooms as the number of displaced residents coming to Philadelphia grows.
Mayor Street said the most important part of the project is to make the victims feel proud to be Americans.
“I think they’ve been unfairly treated,” Street said of hurricane victims. “You don’t need to be in the Superdome, you look at the television and you can see it.”
The first evacuees are expected to arrive in Philadelphia by plane tonight. When they arrive, Mayor Street said, victims will be able to meet with lawyers in the school to discuss what was lost. Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Public Welfare, the Social Security Administration and United States Postal Service will also be available. Wanamaker is also equipped with two computer labs, an exercise room and two recreation rooms.
The announcement of “Project Brotherly Love” brought protestors to Wanamaker from the Red Shield Family Shelter on North Broad Street. About 15 protestors stood across the street from the school, chanting “Philly First for Housing.”
Protesters had a number of complaints with “Project Brotherly Love” and the authority. Some protestors said they have been living in shelters for more than two years without a comparable level of assistance from the city.
“We have tremendous sympathy for the people affected by the hurricane,” Tamika Reddy, a protester, said. “But we’ve been living in shelters, some for two years. I’ve been [in a shelter] for eight months.”
Mayor Street countered the protesters saying the shelter and “Project Brotherly Love” were not in lieu of other city services.
A worker in the Wanamaker school said interested volunteers should go to the Palumbo School on 12th and Catherine streets in South Philadelphia.
Christopher Reber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.