Philadelphia Clears Out Another "Heroin Camp" As Winter Hits City

By Keri Blakinger 11/19/18

It’s the third homeless camping spot cleared out in the Kensington neighborhood in recent months.

worker cleaning up a heroin encampment in Philadelphia
Photo via YouTube

Last week, police in Philadelphia shut down another of the city’s so-called heroin encampments, forcing the area’s homeless from under a railroad bridge and urging them into a local shelter. 

It’s the third homeless camping spot cleared out in the Kensington neighborhood in recent months, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the forced relocation comes just as the city’s settling in for the cold with the first snowfall of the season. 

Residents at the encampment were warned last month that they’d need to move, but a few dozen were still on scene Thursday when police, outreach workers and homeless advocates showed up to supervise the relocation. 

Close to 40 people agreed to enter the low-barrier shelter, a place where residents don’t have a strict curfew keeping them inside at night and they aren’t required to stop using drugs, the newspaper reported. 

In some parts of the city, the opioid-addicted homeless population has surged in recent months, the Inquirer wrote in September. In Kensington, the number of people living on the street more than doubled in the course of a year, bumping up from 271 in 2017 to 703 a year later, authorities said. 

"We certainly recognize that things have gotten worse, that the neighborhood is under siege," Brian Abernathy, the city's first deputy managing director, told the Inquirer. "People are suffering. We have to do better, and we're exploring new approaches. We expect to have something soon."

The uptick in Kensington homelessness comes even as homelessness in the rest of the city appears to be declining. City officials accounted for 1,355 people living on the street in August of this year, an increase from the 983 counted at the same time last year. 

The increase in Kensington alone could account for all of that, and officials said the uptick isn’t simply the result of displacement from other areas of the city. 

"It's not just a reshuffling," said Liz Hersh, the city’s Office of Homeless Services director. "It's an influx."

Now, with the clearing of the Frankford camp under the tracks, there’s only one big homeless hotspot left in the neighborhood—the Emerald Street encampment.   

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.