HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The deadline for people to move out of a homeless encampment in Harrisburg is rapidly approaching — just two days away. Some of those who have been living under the Mulberry Street Bridge have been on the streets for years.
Social service groups in Harrisburg are getting ready to help relocate people who need the help.
Groups say they are prepared, but it has been a challenge.
Leaders from both Downtown Daily Bread and Christian Churches United (CCU) said the timeline of the decision came as a surprise: They found out just 24 hours before residents of the encampment. It has been challenging to work with the city’s one-week deadline, but both groups said they will be there and ready to help.
“Our mission is to shelter the unhoused, feed the hungry,” Corrie Lingenfelter, interim executive director of Downtown Daily Bread said.
Lingenfelter has been serving the homeless in Harrisburg for close to a decade, running Downtown Daily Bread’s soup kitchen for more than six years. She and her colleagues have seen the problems at the Mulberry Street Bridge encampment firsthand.
“It’s trafficking, it’s crime, it’s violence, a lot of drug activity,” she said.
Lingenfelter and her staff are now working to continue providing services while the city is asking residents of the encampment to leave.
“My team yesterday, like we have been nonstop, just answering calls and making sure our clients have somewhere to go,” Lingenfelter said.
Lingenfelter understands the city’s decision, but the timeline, giving residents a week to leave, has been a challenge.
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“I think the perfect dream scenario would have been months in advance to know that,” she said.
The mayor’s office insists this encampment is a health and safety risk.
“It was really a critical emergency,” Mayor Wanda Williams said in a press conference Friday, addressing criticism of the city’s decision.
Officials said a week’s notice was the best way to balance everyone’s needs.
“How do you humanely balance that and give people enough time where we realize that this is a heavy burden of asking someone to uproot themselves once again? That is a heavy, heavy burden that we have to adhere to, so how do we humanely balance that and that’s where we determined a week’s notice is a fair time to ask them,” city spokesperson Matt Maisel said at a press conference announcing the decision.
Still, area nonprofits said they would have liked more notice.
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“We certainly would have hoped to have been included a little more in the dialogue,” Darrel Reinford, executive director of Christian Churches United.
Reinford said the abruptness of the city’s timeline came as a surprise.
“Having a little bit more communication about how we could work together and develop a plan together with the providers would have been helpful,” he said.
Lingenfelter said nonprofits have voiced these concerns to the city, and she said she feels they have been heard. If something like this happens in the future, she said she thinks the city would bring groups like CCU and Downtown Daily Bread in earlier.
“The city does realize, ‘Hey we probably need to reach out to those agencies ahead of time and have a concrete solution and just hear them at the table,'” she said.
Even with that tight timeline, Lingenfelter and Reinford said both of their organizations are prepared to help. In the short term, the goal is to help people relocate.
“We’re going to do what we can again to help people get somewhere they can feel safe,” Reinford said.
Lingenfelter said, “We’re all on the same page to kind of help with our homeless clients, our homeless residents and those that are in need.”
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Maisel told abc27 Tuesday that the city is considering weather-related extensions with rain expected Thursday, the initial deadline to clear the encampment. Officials are working with the fire department to monitor the weather conditions.