Officials continue to monitor, negotiate with those living in encampment along Ben Franklin Parkway

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- An encampment is growing along the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. The group says it has set up dozens of tents to shine a light on homelessness in the city and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

"If you have a city who refuses to provide viable and sustainable options for unhoused people to go to, there should be no reason that you should be able to enforce any laws pertaining to trespassing or pertaining to private property when people are simply trying to setup a tent and sleep," said Indigo, a volunteer with Occupy PHA.

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Encampment protest grows in Center City, Philadelphia

"We are just here to demand that they step up to the plate. We are not asking to pull anything out of a hat. Use what you have to deal with the issue because these are living breathing human beings. That will not disappear," said Jennifer Bennetch, founder of Occupy PHA.

In a past statement, the city said:

"The city respects the right of people to protest peacefully. However, tent encampments often pose a health and safety threat and are specifically prohibited on park property. The city reached out to representatives over the weekend with an offer to meet and listen. We made clear that hotel rooms with private bathrooms are available for those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 (age 65 or over or with underlying health conditions). We have received an updated set of demands and are reviewing them now.

I do want to stress, however, that this encampment was originally organized not by homeless individuals but by groups identifying themselves as 'The Workers Revolutionary Collective' and 'Occupy PHA.' (Members have since recruited homeless individuals to be part of the encampment). Homeless Outreach workers who visited the site to offer housing and services were asked to stay away.

We understand that the encampment is a protest and we want to work toward a peaceful and equitable solution. At the same time, everyone recognizes that this is not a long-term solution to homelessness and we are concerned about the safety and health of the individuals there. We look forward to talking with members of the encampment to come to some accord."

In an updated statement the city says:

"The City has offered to talk with the purported leaders of the Protest Camp, but that has proved difficult. Right when we were about to respond to their suggested time and location for the meeting, they cancelled that meeting just before the recommended meeting time. We are waiting to hear about a new time and place from them. Earlier, we sent a detailed reply by email to their list of demands, and in that we offered some agreement on some of their points. They replied by re-stating their demands without responding directly to our offer.

We have offered to allow a third party negotiator to serve as an intermediary, and are hopeful that might move things forward. In the meantime, we want to do everything in our power to keep people safe and well as we work through this situation. We have heard from some people at the camp that they would like to get tested for COVID. We are, of course, absolutely willing to make testing available. We have hotel rooms available right now for people who are homeless and at high risk of COVID - those who are 65 or older or have underlying health conditions; more hotel rooms will be available for other homeless individuals in the near future. We hope that leadership of this camp will allow those services to be made available to those who want it."

"We are the ones that have been thrown to the side and given up on and it's time for the city to come together and help us," said Leonard Flowers, an encampment resident.

Those who've been living in the encampment for over a week say unless their demands are met they are not leaving. They say if the city moves them out by force, they will just set up in another location.

Protestors claim about 100 people are living in the makeshift community. Some neighbors say they have concerns about cleanliness, noise and safety. Those in the encampment say they are not looking for a handout but a fair chance at a better life.

"We want to echo the demands that the Philadelphia police department is defunded and divested and that money is then transferred into creating low-income affordable housing for people on an equal basis so they can go and live a sustainable life," said encampment resident Indigo.

It's not clear how long the group plans to occupy the encampment along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
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