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News Article - February 20, 2008

AIRPORT'S UNOFFICIAL WELCOMING PARTY UPSETS FREQUENT FLIERS  
  PHILADELPHIA -- There's a problem at Philadelphia International Airport, and this isn't about baggage or flight delays. It's about the unofficial welcoming committee greeting passengers. Philadelphia International Airport is often the first and last place visitors see, and what they're seeing late at night isn't always a pretty picture, Lu Ann Cahn reported. "The airport smells. It smells like homeless people," said frequent flier Joel Brazy. There are urine stains on the wall. Police said some of the homeless defecate where they sleep and you later sit. "I would imagine that the police officers would chase them out," one female traveler said. But airport police told Cahn that it's a problem they can do little about.

   On one night, NBC 10 cameras find about a dozen homeless people in baggage Terminal B, and Cahn said she was told that, on some nights, they fill every seat there. "I mean it's better than them freezing outside," a young, female flier said. "By the grace of God go I," said a male traveler. There's compassion. There's also concern about what this says about Philadelphia.

   "To have as many homeless as we have here is really kind of an embarrassment," Brazy said. "This is the only airport I've seen in the country -- and, for that matter, almost anywhere in the world -- that has homeless people wandering around." "I think they should worry about their own business," said 18-year-old Doug Ryan, who believes he's the newest homeless person to arrive at the airport. "It's warm. It's warm, they don't kick you out, so it's not the worst place," Ryan said. "What are you doing for food?" Cahn asked.

   "Trash cans," Ryan answered. "As you can see, there's like a pretzel store right there. Some people throw away their food, and I'll eat it." Airport officials refused to talk about the problem on camera, but they have put money into it. The NBC 10 Investigators have learned the airport spends $150,000 a year to deal with its homeless population. "Is there any evidence that the $150,000 is succeeding in some way, doing something?" Cahn asked. "That's a good question," replied Gary Brown, a spokesman for the city's Department of Behavioral Health.

   Brown said the money pays for contracted outreach workers to counsel homeless at the airport about five times a week. They can encourage the homeless to go to shelters, but they can't force them to leave. And neither can police. "So the only way someone would have the authority to move them would be if they were a danger to themselves or others?" Cahn asked. "That's my opinion," Brown said. "The bottom line is people who are homeless need permanent housing solutions."

   "It's just not appropriate. That's not who we are and what we're about," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. "If we have a heart, we're going to extend our hand and make sure that people get the services they need to get off the streets or out of the airport." "Someone told me today, like, 'You smell bad,'" Ryan said. Still, Ryan said he likes the airport of brotherly love. Asked if he thinks it gives Philadelphia a bad image, Ryan answered, "No. It's Philadelphia. Have you, like, seen Philadelphia's streets? They're not the best."

   Is this compassion for people who are down on their luck, or another city problem with no clear solution? The NBC 10 Investigators would like to know what you think. Click here to give your feedback. And here's a way to get involved: Project H.O.M.E. is a community that strives to stop homelessness and poverty.

Source - NBC10



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