Evicted: Kenney administration gives Ben Franklin Parkway encampment 7 days to leave

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — The Kenney administration next week will evict dozens of affordable housing demonstrators who formed an encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

But administration officials have yet to finalize a plan for responding to protesters who remain after the deadline and were betting on a “hope” they would leave.

“All we have is hope in the situation here,” said David Holloman, chief of staff for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

Administration officials evaded questions during a video news conference on Friday about whether police will be deployed to enforce the decamp order, whether demonstrators will be arrested, and how the city will respond if protesters form a new camp elsewhere.

“We have begun planning but we have not completed the planning process and we will be continuing to do that over the next week,” said Eva Gladstein, the city’s deputy managing director of health and human services.

The administration will provide intensive outreach and health services and offer housing to all those in the encampment during the next seven days. Gladstein said the city will offer to store people’s possessions and provide transportation, too.

Protesters, who have been based on the edge of Von Colln Memorial Field near the well-heeled Fairmount neighborhood since June 7, have until 9 a.m. on July 17 to vacate.

The administration posted notices on Friday around the camp to leave after negotiations with protesters broke down this week. Upwards of 80 individuals were camping on the field, although numbers fluctuate daily.

Any demonstrator remaining at the park past the deadline will be issued a citation, according to city notice posted around camp. The city will remove any personal property, like tents, from the area.

“Debris and property deemed a threat to the public health, safety or welfare will be destroyed immediately,” the notice read in part.

Officials did not have estimates of the eventual cost to clean the field.

Fifteen individuals from the encampment have already taken up the city on its offer to be housed in a hotel that officials were calling a COVID prevention space, Gladstein said. She declined name the hotel or provide its location.

But some protesters have squashed the city’s engagement efforts by preventing outreach workers from accessing the site and and some in the camp struck an outreach worker on Thursday, said Liz Hersh, director of the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

The encampment has been off-limits to police after the Kenney administration agreed to make the encampment a no-police zone.

Scores of tents and makeshift shelters remained pitched on the field on Friday and bordered the tree-lined sidewalk along the Parkway.

A heavy rain fell through the day, flooding the camp and forcing most demonstrators to remain in their tents. The protesters set up a donation station and medical tent. At least 10 portable toilets were stationed around the camp.

A banner stretched across 22nd Street at the Ben Franklin Parkway that read, “Housing Now! Black Lives Matter.”

Several demonstrators at Von Colln Memorial Field refused to comment on Friday.

Protesters’ demands included sanctioning the parkway camp as a self-governing zone; establishing a land trust for permanent low-income housing; an end to “terror tactics against unhoused people”; and supporting a self-sufficient community of so-called tiny houses, among other things, according to literature handed out at the camp.

The administration had worked to support some of the organizers’ demands, including work on a tiny house village, agreeing to develop permanent housing for all the homeless individuals at the encampment, and offering to permit a sanctioned encampment elsewhere in the city, Gladstein said.

But organizers kept “changing and modifying” their demands, Gladstein said. Organizers also had committed to provide the administration with a timeline to voluntarily close the camp and a draft agreement, but “neither of those things happened,” she said.

Hersh said the administration entered into negotiations with organizers “in good faith” and agreed that more affordable housing in the city was needed.

“We have really taken [the encampment’s organizers] at their word and really tried to respond sincerely to the things that we have in our control to do,” Hersh said, “and to offer a sincere commitment to working together going forward to try to crack some of these tougher nuts that we agree are problematic and that we agree need work.”

A second encampment has formed near the headquarters of the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) in North Philadelphia. PHA is an independent agency separate from the city.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared