Philly will continue negotiations with the leaders of two homeless encampments in the city, and is pausing plans that would have seen the camps dismantled on Friday.
The campers and organizers have demanded permanent, affordable housing and the relinquishing of vacant properties from the Philadelphia Housing Authority to house people on the streets.
The camps are still up at 22nd Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway, and outside the Philadelphia Housing Authority headquarters. No new date has been set for their removal, Mayor Jim Kenney said in a news conference Thursday. He said he and PHA Executive Director Kelvin Jeremiah want to meet with the organizers in person before the city takes any action.
“I want to express to them personally that this is not a long-term, sustainable situation," Kenney said. "That there are hygiene issues. There are issues of people’s personal needs, there are issues of violence, people have been stabbed there. There are unknown issues of COVID.”
He also again mentioned that outreach workers have been turned away from the camps while trying to offer services - including temporary beds - to the people at the encampment, which includes signs like "no cop zone" and "Housing Now - Black Lives Matter."
City and PHA leaders have said there is a process to follow, and while they want the people in the camps to get housing too, the federal government is in the way of their plans.
“Frankly, the housing crisis not just in Philadelphia but across our country is not one that cities and urban areas can solve by themselves," City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. "We need our federal government to change its housing policies to make it easier to provide long-term sustainable housing to our most needy individuals." He later said federal policy and funding have "really been a hindrance."
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Jeremiah also mentioned the federal government in response to questions. He said it would be "fundamentally unfair" to house people in the encampment immediately with thousands of others on a waiting list.
"PHA’s properties are held in trust to the federal government," Jeremiah said. "I am not able to simply turn over units without going through the regulatory process that takes in some cases, a year or two. We have to go through that process."
Kenney said when the city had removed past camps, like one in Kensington, it started with a posted notice and then a larger presence of outreach workers to get people into services. He and Abernathy described police as a last resort. If cops or city workers have to take tents or someone's belongings, they will be stored somewhere and can be collected back, Abernathy said.
The private meeting between city leaders and camp organizers is set to take place next week.