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City evicts people from two Kensington homeless encampments

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It’s part of a program to combat the rise of heroin

The city has evicted people from two Kensington homeless encampments, moving some into respite housing and guiding others to treatment programs for addiction.

City officials announced the news in a statement Wednesday, saying that they have been working on clearing the two encampments at Tulip Street and Kensington Avenue for a month as part of a pilot program to combat opioid addiction. There was another reason for the program as well—the encampments posed a health and safety risk to surrounding residences, according to a statement from the city.

Though there’s no clear number on how many people were evicted, the encampments have seen around 200 people living or staying there at any given time, city spokeswoman Alicia Taylor said Thursday.

The city hopes to continue the program with the two remaining city encampments, but funding for the program is still up in the air, Taylor added.

The program, which launched April 30, started with an outreach process.

“The outreach phase included the development of a by-name list of those in the encampment and intensive, daily outreach to assess their needs and connect them to services, including respite and treatment,” the statement said.

When they did start clearing the encampments, the city helped those on their list with housing, disability, and behavioral health services. Over 100 people received respite housing, around 50 entered treatment, and over 24 people got ID cards as a result of the program.

“We gave people a chance to get off the street and get the help they need by addressing barriers that are usually a deterrent, such as a lack of transportation and ID’s, as well as providing treatment on demand and low-barrier emergency housing for those who are not ready for treatment, but want to come in,” said Liz Hersh, Office of Homeless Services Director.

Despite the city’s optimism, the program has been met with some protest and criticism, including from groups who gathered on Tuesday to voice their frustration. Some protesters argued that the city doesn’t have enough beds for the people being evicted, and that they’ll be kicked out with nowhere to go, according to BillyPenn.

One online group, called “Operation ‘In My Back Yard’,” which aims to provide outreach for people suffering from addiction, vented their frustration online this week, saying the encampments were—in a way—safe injection sites because residents look out for each other.

“Now they are forced to separate and use alone.”

Today is a very sad day. Last December we started our outreach in three encampments in Kensington and it slowly became...

Posted by Operation “In My Back Yard” Page on Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The future of the program is still up in the air, according to Taylor, who said the city has brought in an evaluator to assess the initial success of this month’s program in terms of getting help for people who lived at the encampments.

From there, they will need more funding before they can move forward and finish closing the final two encampments in the city, she said.

  • Kensington protesters implore Philly to ‘stop the evictions’ [BillyPenn]
  • Operation “In My Back Yard” Page [Facebook]