Harrisburg officials sat down on Friday, a respectable distance apart, to answer residents’ questions as the COVID-19 health crisis continues to deepen.
With city hall shut down to visitors, Mayor Eric Papenfuse used the platform of Facebook Live, with a broadcast on WHBG-TV Channel 20, to address residents’ concerns and answer questions about everything from emergency services to the local economy.
“Although we are facing an international health crisis, Harrisburg is a resilient city, and we have survived crises before,” Papenfuse said. “We’ve made it through the TMI disaster, we’ve made it through Agnes, and we train and prepare for disasters on a regular basis.”
To aid him in speaking about city resources and plans, Police Commissioner Thomas Carter and Fire Chief Brian Enterline joined in.
In the hourlong live event, Papenfuse took time to explain updates in the city regarding recent orders from Gov. Tom Wolf. He commended Wolf for taking preventative action to mandate the closure of non life-sustaining businesses.
“Although these are extraordinary times, what we are trying to do in Pennsylvania, and what I believe we are following here in Harrisburg, is designed to protect you and protect all of our residents, especially those who are most vulnerable,” Papenfuse said.
The panel highlighted services available in the city during this trying time, including the school district’s feeding program and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s efforts. Papenfuse said that at the same locations as the student meal pick-ups, any resident in need of food can partake.
During the live stream, residents were encouraged to send in questions and concerns, many of which revolved around issues of caring for vulnerable residents in the city.
While Carter acknowledged many homeless shelters are filled to capacity, he assured many, such as Bethesda Mission, are still giving out food.
“There’s going to be more of a role for Harrisburg police and Harrisburg fire as more people are at home and off the streets,” Papenfuse said. “The people that are left on the streets are people we are going to have to reach out to and try and provide resources for.”
Carter also brought up that residents who are undocumented immigrants should not fear asking the city for help.
“We will be providing emergency services regardless of national origin or citizenship,” Papenfuse said. “It’s not even a question. You won’t be asked, you’ll be helped.”
While the city is working to help residents, officials acknowledged that response times to calls for the police may be slower with shifting priorities during this time.
“We do have new priorities and calls related to health concerns regarding the virus have to take priority over others,” Papenfuse said.
With businesses shutting down, he ensured residents that they will not be penalized for late trash service payments, rent payments or other city taxes.
“We are all in this together, and we can weather the storm,” he said.