IMAGE COURTESY: MAGGIE LOESCH
G, who wished to only be identified by her initial, sits with some of her belongings at the Emerald Street encampment. Clearing of the Frankford encampment one block away began on Nov. 15, and City officials plan to clear her encampment by Jan. 15, 2019.
Bridge divide As one of the last of Kensington encampments is cleared, what remains unclear is where inhabitants will go next BY COURTENAY HARRIS BOND
hepard and his brother Bill, who only felt comfortable using their ďŹ rst names, recently made their way from South Jersey to Kensington where they landed under the Frankford Avenue bridge at just the wrong time. Little did they know that on Nov. 15, the city was going to clear people, their tents, and their belongings out of what had been a long-term encampment of individuals experiencing homelessness and addiction.
Shepard, 37, and Bill, 23, said they would just go back to Jersey. In the meantime, Shepard connected with one of the outreach workers from Philadelphiaâ€™s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services who have been fanning out under the Frankford Avenue and Emerald Street bridges for a couple of months, trying to link people with housing and treatment options. The city aims to clear the Emerald Street encampment by Jan. 15. â€œI can tell that theyâ€™re very genuine people,â€?
Shepard said, adding he would stay in touch with the person he spoke to in case he decided to come back for treatment. â€œI started drinking at the age of 8 years old,â€? Shepard said. â€œI manage my PTSD with heroin. It keeps me calm in general and keeps me more loving because Iâ€™m not in pain. Iâ€™m not a bad person.â€? Wanting the public to see them as human beings rather than â€œjunkiesâ€? was something people echoed under both bridges. People also voiced worries about where they would go when the encampments were emptied, some individuals saying they werenâ€™t ready for treatment and the tent cities were like a family to them. But Mayor Kenney has issued an Opioid Response Executive Order with 100 major goals that has clearing major encampments at the top of the list. Earlier this fall, the city closed encampments under the Tulip Street Bridge and along Kensington Avenue near the intersection with Lehigh Avenue. At a press conference Friday, Kenney expressed optimism, saying he was very pleased about the progress so far. â€œWeâ€™re trying to get as close to treatment on demand for folks,â€? said Timothy Sheahan, director of homeless services for the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, taking a break from his outreach work under the Frankford Avenue bridge Wednesday. â€œSo both inpatient beds if theyâ€™re interested in coming inside to inpatient treatment and also outpatient medicated assisted treatment as well.â€? Sheahan said they had been able to get about 15 people into shelters and about 12 people into treatment from both bridges. â€œWeâ€™re just really listening to folks around what their needs are and â€Ś what it is that they would like to see happen for themselves and trying to create those options,â€? Sheahan added. Nonetheless, many people under the bridges expressed skepticism about the cityâ€™s efforts. â€œI just think itâ€™s messed up,â€? said a 31-yearold woman who goes by â€œGâ€? under the Emerald Street Bridge. â€œYeah, obviously weâ€™re drug addicts, but itâ€™s like one big family. We actually look out for each other. They act like theyâ€™re going to offer us shelter and treatment. They donâ€™t offer shit. Itâ€™s like yeah we live under a fuckinâ€™ bridge but we donâ€™t bother nobody.â€? â€œItâ€™s Kensington,â€? G continued. â€œItâ€™s a goddamn bridge. I donâ€™t think it should be such a big deal. â€Ś Wouldnâ€™t the community rather us be here than on their front steps or using their car mirrors to shoot up?â€? Raymond Johnson, 54, said he had been living under the Emerald Street bridge for eight months. He thought the city should start rehabbing some of the abandoned buildings in the area to house people experiencing homelessness. â€œAll they gonna do is send people to another place to do the same thing,â€? Johnson said about the encampments closing.
Clutching a new pair of socks and a package of crackers he had gotten from outreach workers, Miguel Montanez, 42, said through a translator that he came to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico and has been homeless for two years. He had been living under the Frankford Street bridge for about a week. He said he didnâ€™t know what he would do the next day when the city cleared the encampment, that he would probably just move over to Emerald Street. Nicholas, 35, who only wanted to use his ďŹ rst name to protect his family, was visiting the Frankford encampment looking for his friend. He didnâ€™t ďŹ nd him. Nicholas said he, himself, had experienced homelessness for many years when he was using drugs heavily. He camped in McPherson Square Park. Now he lives in a studio and is in recovery. â€œNobody wants to be out here â€“ I mean I guess different strokes,â€? Nicholas said. â€œBut nobody wants to be out here living under a bridge and freezing and starving. You know drug addiction is a hell of a thing. It takes you places I donâ€™t think anybody ever thought they would be. â€œThis is painful to look at,â€? he added. â€œThis is all pain and suffering. â€Ś People arenâ€™t out here having a good time just getting high and partying.â€? Q TWITTER: @CHARRISBOND
IMAGE COURTESY: MAGGIE LOESCH
Miguel, 42, who has spent two years living unsheltered and six days at the Frankford encampment, poses for a portrait on the morning of Nov. 14. He says he doesnâ€™t have a plan for where heâ€™ll go after the encampment is closed. 3+,/$'(/3+,$:((./<&20
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