Federal judge says city can 'terminate' Philadelphia encampments

Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Homeless encampments in Philadelphia can be disbanded, according to federal rulling
Homeless encampments in Philadelphia can be disbanded, according to federal rulling

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A federal judge ruled Tuesday afternoon that city officials are allowed to "dissolve and terminate" the Philadelphia homeless encampments.

The city must give the people living in the encampments at least 72 hours' notice to leave, the judge said.

The defendants must also "fully comply with their stated procedures, including but not limited to storage and safekeeping of any property collected at the encampment sites," according to court documents.

"We're not moving. We're not going anywhere," said Jeremy A. Williams, an encampment leader after the judge's ruling.

The leaders of the encampment say until their demands they'll stay.

'DISSOLVE AND TERMINATE': A federal judge has ruled that city officials are allowed to "dissolve and terminate" the Philadelphia homeless encampments.

Delaney Keefe said, "We've had a singular demand this entire time. Take vacant properties that are a blight on the city of Philadelphia that have been empty for years, give them to us, enough so we can house our own people."

In a statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said the city is currently evaluating the next steps.

"We appreciate the Court's careful attention to this very complex matter. In light of today's ruling in the City's favor, we are currently evaluating our next steps. We are still deeply concerned about the health and safety of all involved, including the surrounding community. We maintain the position that the camps cannot continue indefinitely, however an updated timeline has not been established. I urge those still in the camps to voluntarily decamp and avail themselves of the beneficial services being offered.

The City has continued to offer its Homeless Connect services on a daily basis to campers by walking the perimeter or setting up tables nearly. So far, more than 100 campers have accepted emergency, temporary housing, rapid rehousing, safe haven and treatment. Those over the age of 65 and/or with chronic underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID, have been referred to the COVID Prevention Spaces, with services and meals provided on-site. All of these options provided by the City include an individualized pathway to long-term housing.

We are encouraged that camp organizers have honored our request to take down empty tents. The footprint of the camp has shrunk. We are also appreciative of the involvement of Councilmembers Brooks and Gauthier in the negotiations."

On Aug. 18, the camps were supposed to be cleared by the city but a temporary restraining order filed by lawyers representing the people staying there blocked the encampment removal, which was slated for 9 a.m.

Last week, in a motion for a temporary restraining order that Attorney Michael Huff filed on behalf of people living in the encampment, there were several demands listed including:

1. Provide plaintiffs with shelter, which is safe, clean, individually separated and in compliance with CDC guidelines regarding the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.

2. Provide plaintiffs including all residents at the encampments with a clear path to permanent housing for which they can be held accountable, and temporary housing until such time at which they are able to provide permanent housing.

3. Provide specific protocol and procedures for the location, labeling, and easy re-acquisition of plaintiffs' property detained which will be held in storage in accordance with the due process requirements of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments."

The City of Philadelphia has ordered the closure of a controversial encampment of protesters along the Ben Franklin Parkway.

But Kenney said they could not come eye-to-eye with the demands and said the encampments were not livable without utilities and federal partners had to step in.

The city has continually cited health and sanitation as reasons for the removal, and safety with acts of violence occurring in and around the camp.

Erected in protest for housing on June 10, the encampment in at Von Colln Park has grown to anywhere from 100 to 200 people.

There are two other encampments, one in the Azalea Gardens behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and another set up off Ridge Avenue, right across from the Philadelphia Housing Authority Building.