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

Thursday, September 10, 2020
Another deadline passes, Philadelphia mayor says city still assessing homeless encampment situation
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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.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney would not comment on when city officials will make their next move in regards to homeless encampments, nor would he say what type of action would be taken.

The mayor spoke to reporters during a Wednesday afternoon press briefing hours after the city's 9 a.m. deadline for protesters to vacate two encampments, one along the Ben Franklin Parkway and another on Ridge Avenue near the Philadelphia Housing Authority building. A third encampment near the Azalea Garden behind the Art Museum has disbanded.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney gives updates on the homeless encampments after deadline passes.

The mayor said the city has and will continue to try to end the situation amicably, but said they are assessing all their options.

"We have tried to avoid over months and months of time for any kind of confrontation and we have been attempting to do it an amicable and helpful way. However, the health situation and the concerns on the Parkway relative to human activities and other things that have gone on there are a real concern for the public safety and the safety of the people in the camp. We will make that decision when we're ready to go," Kenney said.

When questioned on whether the city would take forceful action such as the tear gas that was used to disperse protesters from I-676 in June, Kenney said they are assessing their options and would not elaborate.

"We will make no comment on where or when we're going to move," Kenney said.

The third deadline set by the City of Philadelphia to clear three homeless encampments passed at 9 a.m. Wednesday, with all three still standing.

The third deadline set by the City of Philadelphia to clear three homeless encampments passed at 9 a.m. Wednesday, with both still standing.

Police began closing lanes nearby the encampment on the Ben Franklin Parkway before 7 a.m.

"What we had hoped to do this morning was a continuation of and an elevation of what the city has done for many weeks," Kenney said.

The mayor said city officials had come to offer services and alternative housing to those at the camp.

Protesters erected a barricade across 22nd Street and the outer lanes of the Parkway around 8:30 a.m. They leaned plywood and wooden pallets against metal fencing, some bearing messages.

Some protesters held homemade shields with materials including segments of plastic and metal drums.

"Protest camp leaders refused to allow those conducting outreach efforts into the camps. They erected barricades, held up shields, they cursed at the clergy, they threatened violence and destruction. This is extremely disappointing. This is a shame. And quite frankly, it's unacceptable," Kenney said.

Soon after, the protesters began a press conference.

"We have been fighting for access for permanent housing for low and no income Philadelphians for a long time, and we are not going to stop until we get it for every (expletive) one of us," one person told the crowd.

Protester Tanya Scott stated, "I don't understand why all y'all trying to remove us. What are we doing so wrong? Are we invading on your homes? Are we disturbing y'all peace? Y'all have privacy. My people don't have privacy."

Mike Wilson, who identified himself as a member of the Philadelphia Real Justice Organization, said, "We are gonna fight for housing, and we're gonna take housing. This is a war. This is a war on the poor."

Shortly after the conclusion of the press conference, members of the clergy approached, but they were quickly turned away.

"Unless you are here to offer people housing, please leave. Let me repeat that, unless you are here with keys to housing for people, get the (expletive) out," was the response reverberating from the megaphone.

There are concerns about how this will end. The Whole Foods store near the Parkway was boarded up ahead of the deadline.

"I think it's awful. They have to board it up so that the windows don't get smashed," said Steve Pask of Fairmount.

Bruce Butler, the president of Fairmount Civic Association, says, "The neighborhood is certainly seeing an increase in crime, thefts off doorsteps, car break-ins."

The Ridge Avenue encampment remained the same after the deadline passed.

"We are assessing all of our options, but the activity we are seeing is unacceptable and unsustainable. We are not wavering from our determination to resolve the encampments in an amicable way. We are taking stock of the situation, at the same time, we remind folks who need help or shelter that services are available and we're willing to help," Kenney said.

The city says over 130 people have accepted housing services. Some have gone to COVID prevention spaces which are hotel rooms, residential treatment, recovery houses, and some into shelter.

Advocates for the homeless say the numbers of shelter beds offered up by the Department of Homeless Services don't add up.

"I'm constantly having people who are homeless come to me and try and access these services and I can't get them into intake. There's no availability in the shelters," said Stephanie Sena, Anti-Poverty Fellow at Villanova Law School.

On Wednesday, eight people were placed in housing and one person was given employment assistance.

The city also stated that they are in the planning stages for a program that offers rental assistance for up to two years and are working to pilot 'Tiny Houses.'

According to officials, new federal funds have been made available to create additional long-term housing opportunities.

The mayor stated that health and safety risks are among the issues.

"We've gotten to a point where it's just untenable. To have this other health issue surrounding people living outdoors, defecating outdoors, using drugs outdoors, in an environment that has created this situation," Kenney said earlier.

Protesters say there are PHA properties, that have been boarded up for years, which could be utilized now.

"The option of just turning keys to vacant blighted property is not an option. It would be fundamentally unfair to do that when there are people following the rules," said Kelvin Jeremiah of the Philadephia Housing Authority.