In Council News, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, News by Khara Garcia

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Barry Johnson, Communications Director
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Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson Introduces Legislation to Investigate the Office of Homeless Services, Establish the Office of Homeless Services Ombudsperson

The legislation seeks to establish a more robust system of oversight within City government and prevent further mismanagement of taxpayer dollars

PHILADELPHIA – Today, Philadelphia City Council Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large) introduced legislation that would address the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services’ (OHS). She has introduced a resolution to authorize City Council’s Committee on Finance to investigate the operations of OHR under the previous administration as it relates to their significant overspending, as well as investigate the quality of services provided in the homeless services system.

She has also introduced a bill that would change the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to establish the Office of Homeless Services Ombudsperson. The Office would have the authority to act as an advocate on behalf of Philadelphians experiencing homelessness and their families, investigate client grievances, and provide oversight and recommendations to the Managing Director’s Office. The office would be able to conduct investigations, including the power to subpoena testimony and records to the extent legally permissible.

“I was extremely appalled to see that the Office of Homeless Services claims that they can no longer provide services to residents who need immediate shelter,” said Majority Leader Gilmore Richardson. “I am even more disappointed to see that some people think this is connected to City Council not providing $5 million in current year spending. After years of questionable mismanagement of funds and providing poor customer service, despite significant increases in funding from City Council, it is time to ensure unhoused constituents have an advocate working directly for them.”

Throughout the FY24 budget and mid-year transfer processes, it became clear that OHS, under the previous Administration, had significant issues with overspending, service quality, and contract and vendor management. In early 2023, Majority Leader Gilmore Richardson
attempted to assist families with children who were facing unstable and unhealthy living conditions. Throughout this process, the Majority Leader herself received unsatisfactory service for those families, which led to her taking a deep dive into the Office’s spending and contracting practices, as well as asking significant questions about the quality of their services.

Upon doing her own research, and meeting with advocates and those currently living in our City’s shelters, she discovered that there are major discrepancies between the amount of money OHS receives from City funds, and how they are spending that money. Despite months of communication, City Council’s Committee on Appropriations received a surprise request for nearly $15 million in unpaid invoices from FY21-24 during the FY24 mid-year transfer process.

For context, in FY18, OHS had a budget of roughly $47 million in City funds. For the current fiscal year, OHS had over $80 million in city funds, over $30 million more than five years ago. City Council also approved a nearly $10 million increase year-over-year from 2023 to 2024. This also does not include the tens of millions of dollars in state and federal funds that the department receives each year, as well as a mid-year appropriation last year of $1,474,734 million.

With no clear explanation of why the overspending occurred, how service levels continue to decline despite additional funds, and no concrete next steps on how this would be addressed, City Council only provided OHS with $9.6 million to ensure the Department could pay the outstanding invoices from 2021, 2022, and 2023. The additional funds requested will be addressed in 2024. To this day, Council still has no clear answers as to why certain vendors were partially paid, why costs have increased, and how OHS is truly spending the taxpayer money City Council has consistently allocated.

“As the Majority Leader of Philadelphia City Council, it is my primary responsibility to ensure that residents receive the highest possible quality of service and that City taxpayer dollars are used appropriately,” said Gilmore Richardson. “Philadelphia City Council has remained committed to working collaboratively to improve and expand services to those experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. This includes increasing the amount of funding allocated to the City’s Office of Homeless Services (OHS) by over $30 million in the last five years. I am glad that the Office of the Inspector General is investigating this situation, and I look forward to partnering with the new Parker Administration and my City Council colleagues to find a sustainable solution to this problem.”

Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson is the youngest person to be elected majority leader and the youngest Black woman ever elected to Philadelphia City Council. As an at-large councilmember, she has championed issues such as advancing workforce development opportunities, protecting Philadelphia’s fiscal stability, uplifting working parents, addressing quality of life issues, and ensure environmental justice and climate resiliency. Stay updated at PHLCouncil.com, on Facebook & Instagram @CouncilmemberKGR and on Twitter @CouncilwomanKGR.

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