Officials say they are working to move people out of the Harrisburg homeless camp

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (WHTM) — People in the homeless camp under the Mulberry Street Bridge have one week to move out due to what officials say is a “public health emergency,” Harrisburg city officials said.

Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams addressed criticism over the moveriday, joined by members of the Metropolitan Area Coalition on Homelessness and other city officials. Everyone shared the message: This isn’t about displacing unhoused people, it’s about the safety of those people as well as the rest of the city.

Mayor Williams maintains that the Mulberry Street Bridge campground has become a public safety hazard due to an infestation of rats and a rise in criminal activity, and it is imperative to remove it.

“It was a really critical emergency. We are facing a lot of different illegal activities going on there as well as safety and health risks.”

Since November 2022, police said they have responded to 16 calls in the area, including 6 assaults and three drug overdoses. Officials said part of the increase was due to non-homeless people coming to the camp.

Harrisburg Police Commissioner Thomas Carter said, “This is a need we see that the mayor and I and everyone here have talked about for years and years and years.”

However, getting rid of the camp does not mean forgetting the people who live in it.

“It was never the plan of, ‘Oh, you’re just homeless, I’m not here to help. “We care about our customers, and our homeless family, as I do any of my friends. If we know there is criminal activity around them, we will take the same kind of action we do,” said Corey Linnenfelter, executive director of Downtown Daily Bread.

Lingenfelter said Downtown Daily Bread will continue to provide food and shelter.

“Our greatest concern is the safety of our customers, the safety of the homeless capacity and residents,” she said.

The first thing we need now, according to the mayor’s office, is to find a place for these people to stay and provide services to whoever wants them. Overnight shelters are reaching capacity but shelters like Downtown Daily Bread are trying to make more room.

“Working with overflow shelters, Bethesda Mission, I talk to them every week,” said Lingenfelter.

The city is also looking for places to relocate the residents of that camp. They say something will be ready by Thursday when they tell the residents to leave.

Mayor Williams said safety is her number one priority.

“So let it be known that this is not something I personally wish to do, but that I had to do as mayor of this city, not only for the safety of these individuals under the Mulberry Street Bridge but for the sake of the other 49,000 residents of the City of Harrisburg.”

Mayor Williams said she brought together the Metropolitan Area Coalition on Homelessness and other city organizations to create a coordinated effort to help homeless residents and streamline service delivery.

“We don’t want to discourage anyone from bringing food to any of the necessary homeless camps, but we do want to make sure we have a plan in place…[so] She explained that many people don’t bring them all at the same time because the food just sits there and rots and that’s what brings in the mice.

The mayor also said that going forward, this group of officials and service providers will continue to work to address homelessness in Harrisburg, beyond the issue of the Mulberry Street Bridge camp.