Kensington Caucus formed in Philadelphia City Council

The group of council members vows to help address issues like homelessness and drug abuse in the Kensington and Harrowgate areas.

4 council members at a press conference

From left to right, Councilmembers Mike Driscoll, Mark Squilla, Quetcy Lozada and Jim Harrity compose the Kensington Caucus. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

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A new Philadelphia City Council group is promising to be laser-focused on fixing the longstanding issues facing residents of the Kensington neighborhood.

Councilmembers Quetcy Lozada, Mark Squilla, Mike Driscoll and Jim Harrity compose the Kensington Caucus. Lozada said it was time to move out of silos and work together for a cohesive plan to fix Kensington’s drug and homelessness issues.

“The residents of Kensington deserve collaborative strategic teamwork,” Lozada said.

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At-large Councilmember Jim Harrity, who admits he has a history of substance abuse, lives in the neighborhood and said that the drug and alcohol treatment services offered need to be offered for longer.

“We know we cannot arrest our way out of this. The whole idea is to get these people into long-term recovery,” he said.

Harrity said up to six months of treatment could be necessary to move people out of hardcore substance abuse, and the caucus will work with city and state officials to extend the typical 30-day treatment programs.

“I also know that, from experience being in recovery, that some of us actually do have to get a criminal record in order to get sober,” he said. “For me, it took a criminal record and a heart attack before I decided to finally give up and let God join in.”

He said the effort will focus on long-term recovery, with all services bundled together, including rehab, halfway houses and behavioral health services. Harrity believes it could take up to three months to get drugs out of a person’s system before mental health treatment can be effective.

Councilman Mark Squilla is hopeful that this approach can be replicated.

“What’s happening in Kensington is happening in other communities throughout the city of Philadelphia,” he said. “This will give us an example of how to deal with this. It’s not just to move it from Kensington to another community.”

Squilla said the goal is to break the silos of council legislation and work together on common issues.

“All these concerns need to be brought together and be able to be discussed to see how they’re going to impact other districts and that’s something we haven’t done in the past.”

Councilman Mike Driscoll said he plans to work on the transportation angle of the issue. He wants to make sure the SEPTA stops are clean and that people “are not stepping over folks, that they are not being panhandled, that they are not being solicited, that they’re not having the stench of the homelessness situation that we’ve had there for so many years,” Driscoll said. “We have to make sure that folks, when they get on public transportation, feel safe getting on the train, and while they’re on the train, make sure their journey to their destination is a safe and comfortable one.”

The group has the support of Council President Kenyatta Johnson.

“As we talk about it being a new day, I haven’t remembered the time since I’ve been here since 2011 where we’ve seen council members who all share the same neighborhood come together and specifically focus on those issues from various districts working collaboratively together,” Johnson said.

He added the council “would strategically look at how they can make sure that the neighborhood of Kensington has the type of resource that they need as well as working in partnership with the Parker Administration to move this plan forward.”

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Mayor Cherelle Parker has repeatedly said cleaning up Kensington is a priority for her administration.

Last month, Parker appointed deputy police commissioner Pedro Rosario to oversee Kensington. He’s the city’s first deputy commissioner to be dedicated to a singular neighborhood in the city’s history.

She also issued a state of emergency executive order signed on her first day in office, giving the police department 100 days to devise a plan for Kensington.

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