I love Philadelphia. The city has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Whether it be through Di Bruno Brothers, The Germination Project, or the sports teams, I have always been supporting the city, working for the city, or celebrating the city.
Philly is a city of hard-working, blue-collared workers with a true underdog spirit. We live up to our name as the City of Brotherly Love and, we are home to many of our country’s most significant landmarks and accomplishments. I think Philly is the best, but I recognize that we have our shortcomings.
Through my involvement in The Germination Project, an initiative that aims to unite Philadelphia’s best and brightest future leaders to invest in the city’s future, I was able to do a project on poverty in Philadelphia. I found that out of the ten largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate at 25%. One in every four people lives under the poverty line ($25,000 total income for a family of four).
This is unacceptable.
This past summer, I did an internship in the Pre-Audit Sector of the City Controller’s Office in Philadelphia, a position that allowed me to negotiate city contracts, review balance sheets, and overlook city projects. There, I witnessed this poverty first hand. On my way to work, I would hop on the highway, drive into Philadelphia, and park in the Love Park Garage. I would walk out onto the street and see extreme poverty. I saw people walking around with shopping carts, pouring and drinking alcohol in and out of Wawa cups, and smoking cigarettes and other drugs.
The worst part about the poverty was how it was all over the Municipal Services Building, City Hall, and Love Park. These were not only significant landmarks of Philadelphia but also the location of numerous city official and government worker offices. The city workers would walk by them, never offering a second glance.
Not only had the people in poverty seemed to accept their situation, but so had the leaders of our city. I felt helpless to see how widespread homelessness is in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia was once a city of great firsts. Our country was founded here with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Our country’s first capital, hospital, zoo, stock exchange, and Navy yard were all first to be found in Philadelphia; but since then, we’ve fallen behind.
On the bright side, the United States Census Bureau just released a report stating that Philadelphia’s poverty dropped down to 24.5—the lowest it’s been since 2008. While the number of people living in poverty in Philly dropped from approximately 391,000 to 377,000, it’s not time to celebrate. It’s time to keep working.
My hope is that the civic and business leaders of Philadelphia recognize reducing poverty will result in reducing homelessness. The first defense to defeating poverty is through education and employment, and incentivizing the business community and City Hall to invest in comprehensive programs that provide temporary housing, education, healthcare, and substance abuse rehabilitation through organizations like Project HOME is a great start.
I understand poverty is a complex issue. It will require revolutionary thinking, ingenuity, and hard work, all of which make up the DNA of The City of Brotherly Love. My hope is by addressing poverty and homelessness, Philadelphia will once again achieve new firsts. Otherwise, Philadelphia will be a museum of our country’s past and not a model of a great city in the future.