Center City Beautification?

Bruce always slept on the grate outside of the family court building on the corner of 18th and Vine in Center City Philadelphia. When I say always, I mean every cold night for many years. He had his blankets and stuff piled up under, around and on top of him. He was mentally ill, with some paranoia and other issues. He didn’t like waiting in line, so relied on a few of the guys to bring him leftovers in the evening. Bruce slept on the grate to stay warm from the steam from the court building’s excess heat.

On December 3rd, when Fr. Noah brought Bishop THOMAS to help serve, Fred made sure we visited Bruce to give him some dry blankets and three dollar coins that we were giving out for St. Nicholas Day. We went over to where he was lying. Fred and I introduced Father and the Bishop. We gave him the blankets and the coins. Father Noah said a brief prayer of blessing and Bishop THOMAS blessed him. We told him the coins were given in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in honor of St. Nicholas. Then we left and headed home to warm dry beds.

There have been numerous articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News through the years filled with complaints from Mayor Rendell, rich condo owners and the Four Seasons about the unsightly homeless people in center city. Mayor Rendell blamed the homeless for the failure of his Convention Center. (I’m sure it had nothing to do with inadequate parking, no public restrooms open after 5pm in the city; a “welcome” center with no accessibility or parking, only open banking hours; or battling unions.)

Logan Circle Residents Association keeps lobbying for more repressive legislation to limit loitering in public parks, because they don’t like the looks of poor people. (I thought parks were designed to encourage people to slow down and loiter.)

Well, early in the morning of December 4, some motorist jumped the curb and ran over Bruce as he lay sleeping on the grate, killing him. May his memory be eternal!

Any who think that poor and homeless people are ugly, scary or unclean are guilty of prejudice and are lacking faith.
If you think they are ugly or unsightly: Isn’t it Christ’s face you are avoiding?
If you are afraid of them: Is it because you are afraid you may lose your money and join them? Or is it that you are afraid God wants you to share your abundance with them?
If you think they are unclean: Isn’t it really that you are afraid to face up to your own frail humanity and allow your heart to be touched by a brother or sister who has the same basic needs and wants as you do?

Many people have passed the busy corner of 18th & Vine in the last couple of months. Most were oblivious to any change. Some, I’m sure, noticed that it seemed somehow neater, but weren’t sure why. A few think the city finally enforced the Sidewalk Ordinance to clear out this rabble to beautify their neighborhood. I hope there are none, but I fear there may be some, who know what happened, and think ‘it’s about time’ and blame the victim.

When I saw the empty grate, I grieved for the loss of Bruce. I also considered my own failures. I never got to know Bruce. I saw him there, but rarely went out of my way to see if he needed anything. I considered my failure to understand how Bruce could have come to have such a life. I did not love Bruce enough.

Now I think about the failures of a society that seems all too willing to give up on people. We are willing to spend trillions on an internationally deployed military to protect rich corporations and ensure that we can burn way more than our fair share of oil. Yet we are not willing to treat all men as our brothers or fathers, or all women as our sisters or mothers, or all children as God’s children (as the Scriptures teach us), and share God’s resources to meet basic human needs. We do not love each other enough.

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