Philadelphia clears Kensington encampment: Dozens offered treatment, housing in sweeping effort

Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood saw a significant transformation early Wednesday morning as city workers and police dismantled a long-standing encampment along Kensington Avenue, marking a concerted effort by local officials to combat problems of homelessness and drug addiction in the area.

At dawn, about 75 people who had taken up residence on the sidewalks found themselves at the center of a well-orchestrated cleanup initiative. The operation, which began unexpectedly at 7 a.m., an hour earlier than planned, saw the use of leaf blowers, sweepers and a large police presence. The move is part of a broader strategy by Mayor Cherelle Parker to rejuvenate Kensington, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

The city had given 30 days’ notice for the resolution of the encampment, involving the closure of Kensington Avenue from East Orleans Street to Allegheny Avenue. The cleanup was completed quickly, finishing at 10 a.m., well ahead of the scheduled 3 p.m. arrival.

Brian Parkhill, of Parkhill Recovery Solution’s Outreach For The Lost: Kensington program, was on scene from early morning, aiming to facilitate as many connections to recovery services as possible. “Our main goal today is to get as many people as possible into recovery,” Parkhill said, emphasizing the dual goals of treatment and reuniting families. According to Parkhill, the initiative also aimed to reconnect those displaced by the cleanup with their families, many of whom had lost contact due to addiction.

By the end of the day, city officials reported that 59 people had accepted some form of treatment, care or housing services, with 19 of those connections made directly during the morning operation. Adam Geer, Philadelphia’s public safety director, highlighted the efficiency and effectiveness of this effort, noting that the city has already engaged in eight similar cleanups.

Despite the successful removal of the encampment, this approach received mixed reactions from the community. Residents like Janette Alvelo acknowledged the immediate positive impact, but expressed concerns about the long-term effectiveness of these cleanups. “Once they clean up here, they will find somewhere else to go,” Alvelo commented, calling for sustainable solutions beyond simple displacement.

Criticism has also come from the community services sector. Megan Cohen, of the nonprofit The Grace Project, argued that the cleanup, while well-intentioned, lacked adequate planning for the consequences, particularly regarding long-term housing and employment opportunities. employment for those affected. “We need more than just rehab. We need a place to go after rehab,” echoed one anonymous person from the camp, emphasizing the need for comprehensive support systems.

In response to these concerns, city officials have emphasized their commitment to providing continued support and resources to displaced people. Teams of outreach workers will continue to operate in the area, ensuring that cleaned spaces do not return to their previous state. Geer promised that resources would remain in the area “the next day (and) the day after,” to prevent a recurrence.

The city’s efforts in Kensington are part of a broader commitment by Mayor Parker, who has dedicated significant resources to address the challenges of drug use and homelessness in the neighborhood. This includes leveraging opioid settlement funds and adjusting local policies such as business curfews to foster a safer community environment.

As Philadelphia continues to grapple with complex social issues, the results of initiatives like Wednesday’s cleanup will likely shape future policies and approaches in Kensington and beyond, as city officials and community members seek a balance between immediate action and sustainable progress.