Philadelphia organizes second major Kensington street cleaning of 2018

City workers and volunteers in Philadelphia are teaming up for the second time in as many months to beautify dozens of trash and needle-strewn blocks in Kensington on Saturday.

Over the course of three hours, they’ll clean more than 70 blocks in the heart of the city’s opioid epidemic – double the area covered during November’s effort.

Streets will be swept. Doors and windows will be painted. Graffiti and trash will be removed.

“We’re not naïve to think that we just do a one-day clean-up and it’s gonna stay clean,” said Thomas Conway, who directs CLIP, the city’s Community Life Improvement Program.

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Participants will fan out across an area roughly bounded by Tioga Street and Lehigh Avenue, and Kensington Avenue and Frankford Avenue.

This is the second large-scale clean-up organized by the city through the Philadelphia Resilience Project — an emergency plan launched in October to get a grip on the opioid crisis, which responsible for the majority of 1,217 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2017.

It comes on the heels of three smaller, volunteer cleanups organized by the city. And dozens more organized by neighbors.

The sweat equity appears to be making a difference. While some blocks are pocked with piles of garbage, neighbors say others are less overrun with trash and needles, possibly because the city installed containers in the neighborhood where people can safely dispose of used syringes.

Whatever the reason, Glenda Vasquez is a bit less anxious these days, but still vigilant when she walks through the neighborhood she’s called home for five years.

“My kids, especially the little one, tries to touch everything he sees. And I’m scared that one day he will touch a needle and that’s not good,” said Vasquez.

Over the last month, the cleanups have yielded more than 200 bags of trash, removed more than 100 abandoned cars and handed out cleaning supplies to more than 40 neighborhood groups, according to city data.

“The city can come out here with all the resources in the world, but in order to sustain and maintain what we’re doing, we need their help. We can’t do this alone,” said Conway.

Another large-scale cleaning effort is planned for the spring.

In the next few months, the city also plans to clear another encampment of homeless people who have gathered under a stretch of old railroad in Kensington. This one, near Lehigh Avenue and Emerald Street, is the last of four still standing.

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