Philly officials consider next move to clear homeless encampments

(Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — City officials were unsuccessful in their latest attempt to remove people from the encampments on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Philadelphia Housing Authority Ridge Avenue headquarters.

On Wednesday morning, outreach workers and clergy members were rebuffed when they attempted to assist people ordered to vacate the camp.

“Protestors camp leaders refused to allow those conducting outreach efforts into the camps,” Mayor Jim Kenney said during an online press update about the situation.

“They erected barricades and held up shields. They cursed at the clergy and they threatened violence and destruction. This is extremely disappointing. This is a shame and quite frankly it’s unacceptable.”

Kenney would not reveal city’s next move in clearing out the camp.

“We are assessing our situation and we will make a move when we make it,” he said. “We’ve been authorized by a federal judge to remove the encampment. We’ve tried to avoid over months and months of time any kind of confrontation. We’ve been attempting to do it an amicable and helpful way.”

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Eva Gladstein, deputy managing director, Health and Human Services said more than 130 people from the camps have accepted services – some are being housed in COVID-19 prevention spaces in hotel rooms, recovery housing and shelter. She said even though outreach workers were not permitted access to camp sites, eight people were linked to housing services on Wednesday.

“I want to point out that I think all of us agree with the long term goals of those who organize the camps in terms of affordable housing particularly for very low income people and we’ve made a number of changes to our systems and agreements in order to try to meet those needs in new and innovative ways,” Gladstein said.

She said 25 people have been registered for a new rapid re-housing program and the Philadelphia Housing Authority is making properties available to create new permanent housing opportunities.

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While encampment organizers have been advocating for vacant Philadelphia Housing Authority properties to be used to house the homeless, officials said that is not an option at this point.

“The option of just turning over keys to vacant, blighted property is not a viable option and it would be fundamentally unfair to do that when there are people who are in fact following the rules and who are waiting for housing,” explained PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah.

“There is a desperate need for long term, permanent housing in the city. It’s one that we and the City and others have been working to address, but it requires a realignment of resources from the city, state and federal governments – particularly the federal government.”

Liz Hersh, who directs the Office of Homeless Services, echoed the need for federal funding to address homelessness.

“We really want to work side by side with the advocates, with the activists, with the people experiencing homelessness themselves to get those federal resources not just for Philadelphia but nationwide, so that everybody can have a place to live,” she said.

Hersh noted the city has received federal stimulus funding to create 900 to 1,400 long term housing opportunities.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.