Cleaning day at the heroin encampment along Kensington Avenue was Friday.

City workers tossed a charred couch and other debris into a garbage truck that morning which littered the sidewalk and a vacant property adjacent to the railroad overpass.

Strewn elsewhere were tents, mattresses, and trash. Soon after, some of those living there began moving their belongings back to the sidewalk under the Kensington Avenue overpass, where more makeshift dwellings were situated. People could be seen openly using drugs, while others talked, slept, or milled about.

Police were there too handing out and posting a notice with an new order for those living in the encampment: Leave and remove the tents and other items blocking the sidewalks by 10 a.m. on May 30 — or risk being given a citation by police.

The city’s encampment pilot plan has begun.

The plan launched on April 30 capping a months-long planning process involving city officials and community input, said Deputy Managing Director of Health and Human Services Eva Gladstein while attending a community forum on the opioid crisis at Roxborough High School Wednesday.

The plan will target the encampments on Kensington Avenue and Tulip Street, said Gladstein, who helped develop the program.

The plan includes city crews canvassing the encampments to create a by-name list, as well surveying those to determine how long they have been living there or visiting, what their interests are, and their history, Gladstein said.

Crews will also seek to connect those living in the encampments with treatment and housing options and social services.

The program began soon after the city released figures for overdose deaths in the city, which jumped from 907 in 2016 to 1,217 last year. Among the total, Blacks accounted for 321 of overdose deaths, compared to Whites who made up 760 and Hispanics 160, according to the city.

The drug-related overdose deaths far outpaced the 312 homicides in the city last year.

Residents react

The encampments are “nothing new” for some.

While standing along the 1800 block of Lehigh Avenue on Thursday in sight of the encampments, a man who identified himself as Tae Scott, 25, said he grew up in the area and his mother still lived there.

When he looks at the people living in tents and makeshifts homes under the bridges, Scott said it’s “nothing new.”

“Growing up, we always seen this,” Scott said. “We’ve always seen multiple prostitutes walking down the streets; we’ve always seen people walking around like they’re zombies, like their high off drugs; we’ve always seen people laying around on the ground.

“The tents are just the next level to it,” he added.

Scott, along another resident living in the area, were skeptical whether the city’s plan will work.

Patrick Daly spoke Thursday outside his home on E Tusculum Street. While standing at the bottom of the stairs leading to his front door, where he lives with his wife and teenage son, Daly said he was encouraged by the city’s plan to help those in the Kensington encampment, located just steps away from his home.

But when asked about the success of such an effort, he said: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“I’m thanking the lord,” said resident Bernard David said about the start of the city’s plan. “[The encampments are] not good for the kids. It’s ridiculous.”

David was sitting in his car parked on the 2000 Block of E Somerset Street Thursday. His girlfriend, Brandy Hamler, stood nearby with their three children, aged 13, 10, and 3 years old. Hamler, whose mother lives on the block, and David said their children see the encampments frequently.

“They be shooting up in front of the kids,” Hamler said.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, whose 7th District includes the Kensington Avenue encampment, credited the Kenney Administration for offering beds and low-barrier treatment options for those living in the two encampments.

“We’re as close to creating very low-barrier access as we’ve ever gotten,” she said.

But the councilwoman said challenges lie ahead, such as the availability of long-term housing options and whether people will continue to live under the bridges after the deadline.

“We have to protect the residents, who have been more than patient with the level of activity and public safety challenges. ... Open sex and drugs is a problem,” Quinones Sanchez said.

More beds

As part of the plan, the city has set up more housing options.

Forty new beds will be added to a respite center at Prevention Point, which is the city’s only needle exchange. Those new beds, which have yet to be filled, will complement the 40 beds already offered there, which is a shelter-like housing accessible day and night for the homeless.

Those 40 new beds at Prevent Point will cost approximately $500,000, officials previously said.

Gladstein noted 10 beds at the existing respite at Prevention Point have become available, and the city has made available 40 beds at a location based in North Philadelphia, Gladstein said.

While too early to judge the program and provide, Gladstein said there has been “a number of people who have actually entered in treatment and a significant number of people have indicated an interest in housing and an interest in treatment.”

“We are encouraged by that,” she added.

After the deadline to remove their belongings from the encampments, the city will remove and store anything that remains for up to 30 days. Police will enforce the closing of the encampments.

The program, which uses existing budgetary money, will be run by the five department Health and Human Services Cabinet, which includes Office of Homeless Services, and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services.

As for the two other encampments along the underpasses at Emerald Street and Frankford Avenue, Gladstein said the city will first evaluate the current pilot plan, but noted Philadelphia still lacks resources to extend the program.

“We would need to have sufficient resources, treatment resources, medical resources, other social services in order to do the other encampments, and we are not yet at that point,” she said.

In early April, city officials estimated there were 178 people living in the four encampments.

(5) comments

Guest

Half million for 40 beds that is whole lot of taxpayers money.

Guest

It’s about saving lives. Human life is worth more than money.

Guest

500k is lot of taxpayer money for 40 beds.

Guest

Might as well flush the $500,000 down the toilet for all the good it will do. It's a bandaid. City won't actually address the systemic and cultural problems, but this kind of stuff makes good soundbites for the news.

Guest

I work in this field and that’s completely an unfair and a inaccurate statement. There are many agencies and organizations that are getting to the root of the opioid and homeless epidemic in Phila.

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