Trash, homeless hot topics in Upper Holmesburg

Waste disposal and homelessness are touchy topics of discussion at community civic meetings.

Prospects of new garbage processing operations or new homeless shelters in a community usually beget skepticism and fear among nearby property owners.

But neighbors in Upper Holmesburg didn’t seem to mind recently when Philadelphia’s prisons commissioner told them about a proposed food-waste composting program. Nor did the locals seem overly concerned about plans for an independent, non-profit homeless program that will rotate among several area churches in the coming months.

“It’s a very small program helping families stay near their social support system,” Rachel Falkove, executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, said during the monthly meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association.

Falkove’s program is based in the Northwest section of the city but is expanding into the Northeast to meet the needs of a growing population of displaced families here, the director said. Participating religious congregations and their program volunteers take turns hosting homeless families and helping them regain stability.

Faith Lutheran Church at 4150 Woodhaven Road will be the first Northeast host site throughout August, Falkove said. The operation will move to Rhawnhurst Presbyterian Church at 7701 Loretto Ave. in September, then Oxford Circle Mennonite Church at 900 E. Howell St. in October.

Each site will host no more than three families at a time, Falkove said. Each month, the program will vacate one church and move to the next.

Some volunteers prepare and host meals for participating families, while others spend nights with them. The hospitality program also plans to open a permanent daytime facility where participating family members can spend their time when not at work or school. Program leaders are looking to set up the daytime facility near the Oxford Circle neighborhood, Falkove said.

The hospitality network hopes to recruit additional Northeast religious sites.

Falkove assured neighbors that organizers are very selective in who they welcome into the program. Families are subject to criminal background checks and should have a plan for finding their way out of dire straits.

The program is not a permanent solution for their problems. The average length of stay is four months per family.

“We’re not talking about people who are plaguing the system,” Falkove said. “We’re talking about people with strengths we can build upon.”

On the garbage disposal front, Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla assured residents that smells and pests will not be a problem with the prisons system’s new food-waste composting program.

Uneaten prison food and other “source-separated organics” will be deposited into four closely controlled bays at the site of the former Holmesburg Prison, 8215 Torresdale Ave. The bays will be 8 feet by 10 feet and feature an aeration system that will accelerate the chemical process of composting.

“We’ve been told this process won’t attract insects, pests or wild animals,” Giorla said.

The prisons will use much of the resulting compost in its horticulture and greenhouse programs, while some will be sent to the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society and some made available to the community.

Composting will allow the prisons system to save taxpayer money by reducing its payments to landfills and by reducing costs associated with its kitchen operations, according to the commissioner, who did not announce a start date for the composting program.

The next Upper Holmesburg Civic Association meeting will be on Thursday, June 21, at 7 p.m., at St. Dominic’s Marian Hall, 8532 Frankford Ave. ••