Community leaders gathered on a muggy Wednesday morning at Harrowgate Park to celebrate what city officials called a first-of-its-kind grant program meant to strengthen Kensington.
A panel composed entirely of residents chose 20 groups serving people in Kensington, Harrowgate and Fairhill to receive a total of $200,0000. The participatory process took nearly two years.
The neighborhoods have been ravaged by an epidemic of homelessness, crime and litter, all results of the opioid crisis, and long-term residents have for years urged the city to devote additional resources.
“For the first time, we had someone who wanted to hear what we wanted in our house,” said Sonja Bingham, of Harrowgate, who served on the selection committee.
Before the grants were awarded, area stakeholders identified six focus points — safety and gun violence, youth development, workforce training, beautification and blight removal, connecting residents to resources and addressing community trauma.
Officials said each of the $10,000 grants is for “general operating support,” meaning the money is flexible and can be used to cover costs or implement new initiatives.
Shannon Farrell, head of the Harrowgate Civic Association, said her group will use part of the funding to equip residents with trash cans, so that animals don’t rip through bags by the curb on collection day and add to the litter.
For Providence Center, the dollars will allow the organization’s teen trauma ambassador pilot program to continue operating.
Even as they welcomed the funding, community leaders and residents expressed a desire to hold city officials accountable.
Kensington resident Ben Wildflower, who was on the grantmaking panel, said neighbors should be hopeful but angry.
“I’m tired of the good work, too. I’m tired of being resilient,” he said. “I’m tired of clean-ups. I’m tired of community meetings.”
Eduardo Esquivel, president of the Kensington Neighborhood Association, said the area is ground zero for the opioid epidemic “because of systemic racism, and people saying for years and years that the needs of our community do not stack up to those of anybody else.”
“I’m very disappointed that Mayor Kenney isn’t here to see this and all the effort that we’ve put in here today,” he added. “I pray that the next time we have this he’ll be here and that he’ll be a more engaged partner.”
A Kenney spokesperson told Metro that the mayor had a scheduling conflict and could not attend the event. He takes the situation in Kensington seriously, she added.
Neighbors vented similar frustrations in the spring, when SEPTA abruptly closed the Market-Frankford Line’s Somerset Station for emergency repairs.
City Managing Director Tumar Alexander, who was present at Wednesday’s announcement, said the administration understands the issues facing Kensington.
“I know, at times, we may not do everything right, or, at times, you all might question some of the things we do,” he told residents. “I just want you to know — our commitment is there.”
The Kensington Community Resilience Fund is actively raising money for a second round of grants, which it hopes to award by the end of the year.
“There need to be more funders that are supporting this work,” said Joe Pyle, president of the Scattergood Foundation, which donated to the program.
Other financial backers included the Douty Foundation, K10 Kids Foundation, Patricia Kind Family Foundation and the Nelson Foundation.