Parkway homeless encampment won’t be cleared Friday

PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Authorities won’t clear a homeless encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Friday as planned.

Mayor Jim Kenney said he will personally intervene next week to talk with leaders of the camp, which began more than a month ago as a protest over affordable housing and the city’s treatment of the homeless.

The mayor didn’t rule out using force to remove the tents and maintained that the camp cannot be a long-term solution.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s devolving into a real concern,” Kenney said Thursday. “At some point in time, the Parkway needs to be cleaned.”

Officials on July 10 signaled their intention to clear the camp, near a baseball field at 22nd Street and the Parkway, by Friday after weeks of negotiations.

Camp leaders had been urging supporters to show up Thursday night and Friday morning.

Jennifer Bennetch, one of the camp’s organizers, said the group is eager to finally get face-to-face time with the mayor and Philadelphia Housing Authority President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah.

A smaller protest camp has occupied an area on Ridge Avenue near PHA’s headquarters in North Philadelphia.

“We just hope this conversation can start from a place of moving forward and working toward a solution and not from a place of finger-pointing and blaming,” Bennetch told Metro.

Philadelphia Housing Action, a coalition representing the camps, is calling on the city and PHA to turn vacant properties over to a “community land trust” to be used as low-income housing. Organizers are also pushing to get camp residents immediately into permanent housing.

PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

City officials have said that is not possible and would be unfair to people who have already been waitlisted for housing.

“There will not be a house for every single person at that encampment, but what we hope to have is a plan to be able to address their needs now and get them into the system so that they can eventually be housed,” Kenney said.

About 4,700 people are on PHA’s waitlist, and Jeremiah said he is not able to transfer ownership of the authority’s properties because they are tied to the federal government.

“I am not able to simply turn over units without going through the regulatory process that takes, in some cases, a year or two,” he said. “We are happy to explore that process. We are working with the city to do that, but the simple turnover of those units is not something that I am able to do.”

Bennetch, who also runs “Occupy PHA,” said the housing authority regularly dispenses of property and that the process is not as complicated as it seems.

Representatives from Kenney’s administration said more than 30 people from the Parkway camp have been placed in shelters or in hotels the city is renting as COVID-19 quarantine space.

However, the process has been hindered, officials said, by organizers who are not letting outreach workers inside the camp, forcing them to set up on the outskirts.

Kenney said he sympathizes with the protesters’ goals and cause, but that he is not sure how or whether an agreement will be reached.