U.S. attorney gives strong warning to Philadelphia homeless encampment protesters

"I'm watching this situation closely," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said.

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Thursday, September 17, 2020
U.S. attorney gives strong warning to Philadelphia homeless encampment protesters
U.S. attorney gives strong warning to Philadelphia homeless encampment protesters

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- U.S. Attorney William McSwain is giving a strong warning to homeless encampment protesters in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

"I'm watching this situation closely. If anybody at the encampments defies the police and commits any federal crimes in the process, here is your warning: you will be prosecuted federally to the fullest extent of the law," McSwain said in a tweet.

The warning comes as two encampments continue to occupy two areas of the city: the Ben Franklin Parkway and outside of the Philadelphia Housing Authority building on Ridge Avenue.

READ MORE: Homeless encampment residents ask to meet Philadelphia mayor as stalemate continues; Kenney declines

Mayor Jim Kenney declines invitation to 'brunch' at Philadelphia homeless encampment

Despite three attempts by the city to close them down, the homeless encampments are still up and running. Some members of the city's Fairmount neighborhood say they are fed up and don't feel safe.

Many neighbors have been posting on social media and neighborhood apps anonymously, saying they don't know how and when this will end.

"I saw it the other day, somebody urinating and basically going to the bathroom in the bushes right at the Rodan Museum," said Neema Mohajery, who lives in Fairmount.

Many Fairmount residents say they are tired of seeing the homeless encampment outside their windows.

"For the first time in 11 years, I do not feel safe living in my own neighborhood," said Mohajery.

"Some of them are very aggressive, unfriendly, they don't want you to look at them, no pictures," said Tom Huber of Fairmount.

Many residents say the Philadelphia homeless encampment along the Ben Franklin Parkway needs to go.

On Wednesday, Chopper 6 flew over the barricaded homeless encampment along the Parkway.

"I can hear them fighting at night within the encampment," said Huber.

Campers have blocked off roads and the baseball field. Their signs are bold, but many neighbors said their messaging is unclear.

READ MORE: Another deadline passes, Philadelphia mayor says city still assessing homeless encampment situation

As another deadline passed to clear out multiple homeless encampments in Philadelphia, city officials say they are assessing the situation as protesters vow not to leave.

"You're seeing, 'Black lives matter,' you're seeing, 'defund the police,' you see, 'we need housing,'" said Mohajery. "Really the question is, what do you want? What are you trying to negotiate?"

Camp leaders said they want safe housing. Negotiating with Mayor Jim Kenney hasn't yielded results, as deadlines for them to leave have come and gone, and those living in the encampment remain unhappy and refuse to leave.

Cell phone video taken from residents in surrounding apartments showed campers taking bleachers from the nearby baseball field to form barriers, and practicing forming human barricades.

"I live in a high rise, so we need added security and financially that comes out of all of our pockets as the homeowners," said Mohajery.

However, others said they sympathize with the situation.

"For me to say that someone's homelessness is inconveniencing me, is simply not right," said Ben Bloom, a Fairmount resident. "It's not right for someone to be living on the street right now, we have a probably 700 million-dollar apartments going up."

All residents Action News spoke with said they don't want to see this end in violence.

A spokesperson for the city released this statement to Action News: "It is now more than one week since the deadline to resolve the two protest camps, and we understand the frustrations and concerns of residents of both neighborhoods to the lack of resolution. For now, the City continues to have communications with the camp leaders, and homeless outreach workers continue to offer services and alternative housing to those at the camps. More than 140 individuals have been placed in treatment and housing opportunities. At the same time, we continue to assess the actions of camp leaders, which include stockpiling of supplies, construction of barricades, and other actions. Forcibly removing camp residents will be a last resort, and as the Mayor indicated yesterday, the City is not going to publicly disclose if and when it will take that step. "It's going to have to end," he said, "and we're trying to get as many homeless people out of there before we do anything."