Sharswood residents and #OccupyPHA clash over protest encampment

A homeless encampment at 21st and Ridge Avenue

A homeless encampment at 21st and Ridge Avenue adjacent to PHA headquarters in North Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A group claiming to speak on behalf of the Sharswood community wants Mayor Jim Kenney to remove the #OccupyPHA protest encampment on a lot next to the Philadelphia Housing Authority headquarters on Jefferson Street. 

The groundbreaking for a shopping center with a planned Save-A-Lot supermarket is expected to take place there in about a month, according to PHA. But neighborhood residents say the encampment of people experiencing homelessness is slowing down progress. The $51 million deal for the shopping center is part of a 10-year, $500 million plan to redevelop the area.

“Why does it have to be there?” said Darnetta Arce, executive director of the Brewerytown Sharswood Neighborhood Advisory Committee. “We need jobs.”

Darnetta Arce, executive director of the Brewerytown Sharswood Community Civic Association held a press conference Monday afternoon to demand Mayor Kenney remove the homeless encampment at Ridge Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Some 15 to 20 people have squatted on the PHA-owned lot for weeks to bring attention to the agency’s alleged inaction on the city’s housing crisis. More than 5,000 individuals experience homelessness in Philadelphia and 47,000 more are on waitlists for subsidized housing. 

The encampment’s organizer Jennifer Bennetch interrupted the Sharswoood resident’s press conference with a counter-protest. Using her own PA system, Bennetch called out Arce and Asia Coney for speaking out against the encampment while also having direct ties to PHA. Coney is a PHA board commissioner and Arce’s spouse is a PHA employee.

Jennifer Bennetch called for the investigation of PHA dealings in the neighborhood from the sideline of a press conference of residents and the Brewerytown Sharswood Community Civic Association demanding the removal of a homeless encampment on Ridge Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“People who are benefitting from a relationship from PHA shouldn’t be the ones speaking out against what is going on,” said Bennetch. “If regular community members have an issue, I’m always willing to have that conversation, and I talk to the community everyday, but to have PHA employees and their spouses and their commissioners addressing a protest seemed very unethical to me.”

The two sides shouted back and forth at each other throughout the event. Philadelphia police even made an appearance. However, they neither made arrests nor took any enforcement action.

A homeless encampment at 21st and Ridge Avenue adjacent to PHA headquarters in North Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Denise Warren, 42, has lived in the Blumberg/Sharswood section of the city for more than 10 years. The area is considered a food desert, where healthy food tends to be scarce. Warren, who did not attend either event, says she has to leave her neighborhood and drive to other parts of the city to get groceries. 

“It’s no supermarkets near here,” she said. “It’s none really accessible to the people that don’t have vehicles.”

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