The City of Philadelphia announced today that it will postpone plans to close the protest camp on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Last week, after weeks of providing oral direction to remove the encampment, formal written notice was issued to residents of the camp that they must vacate the area no later than Friday, July 17 due to mounting public health and safety concerns that affect both the residents of the encampment and the surrounding community.
“We’re postponing the closure because conversations with the group are ongoing and I plan to meet with several camp representatives next week,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “A mutual resolution has always been our preferred outcome. We appreciate their willingness to engage in productive dialogue, and I’m hopeful that we will reach a peaceful resolution soon.”
The additional time also affords City outreach teams and service providers more opportunities to engage individuals experiencing homelessness in order to offer housing and other social services.
For the last week, outreach teams representing Merakey, Northeast Treatment Centers, veterans’ services, the Department of Human Services, Office of Homeless Services, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services have been part of an outreach effort called “Homeless Connect,” which brings appropriate supports to those in need.
“We’re pleased that over the past few days, seventeen placements, including two couples, to safe havens, recovery housing and shelter, have occurred, on top of the seventeen placements of older adults and people with disabilities into the COVID Prevention Space,” said Liz Hersh, Director of the City’s Office of Homeless Services. “The City and our partners will continue outreach so everyone in the camp has a housing plan and a place to go.”
Outreach has been in the area for the past month engaging those who are willing and offering housing and services. This work has been done from outside the camp and the perimeter so as to honor the boundaries of the camp and requests of organizers. However, the City believes its outreach efforts, which connect individuals with the very services and help they need, would be even more effective if the outreach workers could enter the camp and directly speak with its homeless members. Even with this limited access, the City and outreach partners have been able to place over 30 individuals in either shelter space or COVID Prevention hotel space.
City officials previously met with camp representatives and neutral observers on June 26 to hear the group’s asks.
Mayor Kenney added, “This demonstration activity casts an important light on the racial inequities in our society that impact homelessness and frankly have informed inadequate solutions. Our Administration shares the belief that policy failures for generations have brought us to this point, and we are committed to enacting meaningful reforms that help keep people in their homes, expand affordable housing, and improve pathways to home ownership in the City of Philadelphia – especially for communities of color.”
As the City continues to reimagine and reform public safety, Mayor Kenney acknowledges that using police officers to remove people from the camp is a last resort and something he hopes does not come to fruition.