Philly homeless encampments show little sign of disbanding

Protesters wait behind blockades to defend the Parkway homeless encampment

Protesters wait behind blockades to defend the Parkway encampment in September. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philly homeless encampments show little sign of disbanding

A third deadline for people without housing and protesters to leave two Philadelphia encampments has come and gone, and Mayor Jim Kenney says the city is still trying to resolve the situation without using force.

The city gave the group until Wednesday morning to pack up and get out of the camps — one on the Ben Franklin Parkway, and one on Ridge Ave. in North Philly. But by Thursday morning, it was still there — as was a barrier the group had erected across part of the parkway.

Kenney says he sees this as a multi-day operation.

“This is a very sensitive and heightened situation,” he said. “To just to plow in there without thinking about it or taking time to plan would be irresponsible.”

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Protesters have said they want better guarantees from the city that people won’t be turned out to live on the street again if they’re forced to leave the tent camps.

One group, Occupy PHA, has been placing homeless families in vacant, city-controlled houses, and wants to see that program expanded, and for the people living in previously empty houses to get a path to legal residence. They’re also calling for expansion of a city plan to make vacant housing available through community land trusts.

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The city said its immediate goal is to get as many homeless people as possible out of the camp. Officials report that since July, they’ve placed 142 people in COVID-19 prevention spaces, safe havens, Sacred Heart, recovery housing, a medical center for veterans, and Stranded Travelers facilities.

Limited Rapid Re-Housing is also available, and officials say they’re exploring longer-term options, like increasing numbers of long-term housing units and piloting a “Tiny Village” initiative.

Kenney said the city is still trying to present those options to protesters, but he is getting frustrated trying to respond to their requests.

“At the moment we are not negotiating,” he said. “It’s hard to negotiate because the demands keep changing.”

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He added, the city is “not looking for trouble … just looking to respond, be safe and get the encampment over with.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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