As I’ve mentioned here previously, I have a friend who is a retired Philadelphia detective who worked the streets of Kensington for a good part of his career.

The detective took me on a couple of “ride-alongs” through Kensington’s open-air drug market and the sad drug user’s street scene a while back. I recall seeing the stooped, staggering, and squatting drug addicts inhabiting the sidewalk amidst trash and garbage.

Photos and stories of the Kensington open-air drug market and drug-addicted street people have been featured prominently in the press worldwide, and even Mexico pointed a disapproving finger at Philadelphia. I spent time in Mexico when I was in the Navy, and I saw impoverished neighborhoods and indigent people there, so for Mexico to offer criticism of our city is telling.      

I reached out to the former detective and asked for his take on the city government’s encampment closure on May 8th that took apart the street squatter’s tents and other makeshift dwellings on Kensington Avenue. The city workers picked up trash, garbage, discarded needles and scrubbed the streets and sidewalks. 

“The Kensington streets have been an eyesore, a public health issue and a national disgrace, so this kind of action was overdue and totally necessary,” the retired detective told me. “And I’m glad that the city approached the cleanup not as a police action, but as a humanitarian effort, using the city’s social services and the sanitation crews.

“The drug addicts are lost souls due to their addiction, and although I think the police should crackdown on the street gang drug dealers, the addicts should be treated as victims in need.”

I agreed. Damn the drug dealers, pity the drug users.

The City of Philadelphia put out a press release on the day of the encampment closure.

“Today, the City of Philadelphia completed a month-long encampment resolution process in Kensington on the 3000-3100 blocks of Kensington Avenue. A total of 59 people accepted housing and services through the 34-day process, including nineteen who came in today,” the press release stated. “There will continue to be outreach and engagement teams working on a daily basis to connect individuals to housing and treatment throughout the community. This resolution was part of the City’s continuing efforts in combating the overdose crisis in Philadelphia.”

The press release also stated that Mayor Parker praised the work of every City worker and agency involved in the effort. Noting that encampment resolutions were not new in Philadelphia, the city government stated that there has long been addressing encampments that threaten communities’ public health and safety. As of May 8th, the city has engaged in more than 25 encampment resolutions. Ten such actions have previously taken place in Kensington.

“We’re proud of all of the City Departments that worked together to resolve the encampment on two blocks in Kensington that were creating a public safety and health threat to the neighborhood,” Adam Geer, the Chief Public Safety Director, said. “Throughout the process, no one was arrested, and 59 people came off the streets and into care. That’s in line with Mayor Parker’s vision for the restoration of Kensington and any neighborhood where people are suffering and in need.”

The city government stated that since Thursday, April 4, city employees from the Office of Homeless Services, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services in partnership with neighborhood-based nonprofits and social services staff have been working to connect people to treatment, shelter and medical care.

They added that it did not require anyone to accept treatment or housing, and it was strictly voluntary. Their housing assistance included offers of low barrier shelter, recovery focused shelter, safe havens, and respite. Four people were connected to drug and alcohol services.

The city government added that they were able to care for 1,242 people suffering from wounds even if they did not accept other services. Wounds cared for ranged from minor cuts to serious necrotic wounds and 88 patients were seen during extended evening outreach from April 9 to May 7, twelve of whom were new patients seen for the first time during the extended outreach.

The city government stated that outreach teams have been engaging people daily, providing services, offering resources since the winter months and will continue to do so. And for the first time, the city government piloted an extended outreach effort that started on April 9th and included interagency outreach teams to engage from 4 to 8 p.m. three days a week in addition to their regularly scheduled outreach efforts – 32 of our placements came directly from that effort.

“Our outreach teams are Philadelphia’s unsung heroes, and they all put their heart and soul into every engagement,” Noelle Foizen, the Overdose Response Unit (ORU) Director, said. “Teams work tirelessly to support each person including addressing anything that could be a barrier to placement such as accessibility, mobility, pets, couples, etc. and work hard to find the right resource in challenging situations where at times they are threatened and harassed. They are brave and strong and represent the best of us and Mayor Parker’s vision to connect people to long term care, treatment and housing opportunities.”

The retired detective, who has witnessed the highs and lows of Kensington over the years, told me that he has high hopes for the neighborhood. 

“We should all remember that Kensington is not only the home of criminal gangs selling dope and the drug-addicted street people. There are also good people suffering who live in residential homes in proximity to the open-air drug market,” he said.

“I pray that this action is not just a Band-Aid, and that the area won’t sink back to its previous hellhole. This has to be an ongoing effort. I pray that the city can eradicate once and for all Kensington’s drug traffickers and the poor people who suffer and die from the criminal’s greed and the inhuman consequences of addictive drugs.” 

Paul Davis, a Philadelphia writer and frequent contributor to Broad + Liberty, also contributes to Counterterrorism magazine and writes the “On Crime” column for the Washington Times. He can be reached at pauldavisoncrime.com.

2 thoughts on “Paul Davis: Cleanup on Kensington Avenue”

  1. I have great respect for the current administration attempting to tackle the issue. Here is a walking tour made by a citizen reporter of the stretch of Kensington Avenue from Lehigh north to Allegheny that was shot on last week on May 10th.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upsPAZfXPTU.
    I think that this was a good first step, but there is still more to do after the eight years of neglect that characterized the Kenney administration’s approach.

  2. Wishful thinking. Probably a better idea to go after the dealers and get the treatment facilities in place before starting the “crackdown” all this did was scatter the problem; addicts are all over Harrowgate and even Port Richmond now. You can’t get off 95 at Allegheny or Aramingo without some zombie coming up to your car asking for money. Campbell Square will look like needle park soon if this continues to be a developer driven charade. This is only about gentrification and property values around Lehigh Ave., don’t get it twisted.

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