L&I cracks down on church/rooming house

EAST KENSINGTON - August 2, 2010 At the corner of C and Indiana sits a 114-year-old church building that's occupied by Hope Outreach Ministries, an oasis for homeless men struggling to overcome drug and alcohol addiction and lives of petty crime.

Residents who've bounced around this nether world say its the cleanest, most effective program they've been in.

"Ive been to a couple of recovery houses here in Philadelphia, bed bugs, you got people who are in the recovery houses getting high to the fullest extent and they won't shut them down," said Eric Rivera.

"Working, like actually saving money which I'd never did before, living drug free," said Ed Lennon.

Reverend Deborah Savage, the pastor, points with pride to the positive work her residents have been doing in the East Kensington community where the drug trade continues to flourish. For example, they cleared up the local park.

"The park was uninhabitable for children or anybody else, there was a lot of homeless people sleeping on the benches here, they were sitting here using drugs as well as selling drugs. The drug dealers had all this area sowed up."

The pastor says over 200 men have lived here over the past 18 months, 17 are here now in a building that has been dramatically spruced up.

But L & I says Outreach Ministries cannot legally continue using the building as an overnight residence for so many people. L & I says the building is zoned for a church and not a rooming house.

The residents have installed fire extinguishers and smoke detectors but still L & I says it is not meeting the standards for a multiple occupancy residence hall.

Late Monday the L & I inspector posted notices telling Outreach Ministries they must be out on August 10th or they will be removed by the Philadelphia police.

"It needs a hard wire fire system, we need more adequate access to the exit doors, it's nothing that can't be fixed," said Tom Gallagher of Outreach Ministries.

L & I Commissioner Fran Burns says she will be reviewing the situation on Tuesday.

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