What to Know
- Philadelphia officials relocated a few dozen homeless people who have been sleeping at the city’s airport during the coronavirus pandemic.
- The homeless were administered rapid COVID-19 tests before they were taken to homeless shelters. All tested negative for the virus, a city official said later Tuesday.
- Airport and city officials agreed to wait until Tuesday and to administer the tests after homeless advocates threatened to file a lawsuit if the homeless people were moved to shelters without being tested for the new coronavirus.
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Philadelphia officials on Tuesday relocated dozens of homeless people who had been sleeping at the city's airport during the coronavirus pandemic and administered rapid COVID-19 tests on all of them.
All of the homeless, who numbered about 50, tested negative for the virus, city Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. He did not say exactly where all 50 or so people were relocated to, but said none were taken to COVID-19 quarantine sites.
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Some went to homeless shelters in Delaware County or Philadelphia, Abernathy said, adding that anyone who didn't want to go to a shelter was not forced to.
Officials at Philadelphia International Airport initially planned to remove the homeless last week. They had been sleeping for weeks during the pandemic at a little-used baggage claim area. But airport and city officials agreed to wait until Tuesday after homeless advocates threatened to file a lawsuit if the people were moved to shelters without being tested.
“Some may choose to go to Delaware County . ... Some may choose to accept service in Philadelphia,” Abernathy said last week. “Some will not accept services at all, which is absolutely within their right, but they are certainly not allowed to stay at the airport from this point forward.”
The airport began enforcing new rules Tuesday, allowing only workers and those with airport business in the terminals and baggage areas.
Representatives from the Homeless Advocacy Project and the nonprofit group SELF, among others, had signed on to initiate legal action if the city moved forward with removal without testing, according to published reports.
As airport security, outreach workers and city employees worked to test and relocate the homeless camped at the baggage claim areas, spokeswoman Florence Brown said in a statement Tuesday the airport had run out of options.
“Recent strains on the region’s social service network due to the COVID-19 crisis have created an urgent need for the airport to narrow its defined usage of the facility’s public spaces,” she said. “The decision to limit building access to only those with airport business was a difficult one that followed months of attempted interventions, compassionate outreach and ultimately, a destruction of property and deterioration of safety.”
At the peak of the airport encampment, there were more than 150 people sleeping at the baggage claim areas around Terminal A, which in part serves international flights and has been out of use for about two months.
But problems have been mounting because of worker complaints and reductions in access to food, staff cleaning and stocking bathrooms in the area. Airport officials have said portions of the baggage claim area will be put back in use around June 4, which coincides with when the state is expected to ease pandemic restrictions in the city and neighboring suburbs.