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September 09, 2020

Mayor Kenney calls encampment resistance 'disappointing,' 'unacceptable'

As eviction deadline meets opposition, city will continue to assess options

Protests Homelessness
Encampments Sept 9 HughE Dillon/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia set a Sept. 9 deadline for homeless encampments to clear from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Azalea Gardens and Ridge Avenue.

Philadelphia's homeless encampments on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Azalea Gardens and Ridge Avenue resisted the city's eviction efforts on Wednesday morning, leading to a tense standoff and questions about next steps. 

Philadelphia police and city officials had enclosed the areas of the three encampments, which had been given a Sept. 9 deadline to vacate the areas. Homeless outreach coordinators were prevented from entering the area, according to city officials. 

Live footage of the scene was streaming from 6ABC's Chopper 6 on Wednesday morning.

WATCH LIVE: Chopper 6 flies over Philly protest encampment sites after deadline passes to vacate encampments.

Posted by 6abc Action News on Wednesday, September 9, 2020

As the 9 a.m. deadline approached, protesters at the parkway encampment set up barricades and chanted for housing. Leaders at the parkway site said they would not leave, and if forced to leave, they would return.

By Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials said they were again considering how to move forward.

"We are assessing all of our options, but the activity we are seeing is unacceptable, and frankly, unsustainable," Kenney said. "We're not wavering from our determination to resolve the encampments in an amicable way. We are taking stock of the situation." 

The mayor criticized encampment leaders for cursing at clergy members who were sent to provide assistance. Outreach workers, barred from entering, had hoped to offer homeless residents counseling services, shelter, recovery housing, behavioral health placements and registration for rapid rehousing. 

"This is extremely disappointing," Kenney said. "This is a shame. Quite frankly, it's unacceptable."

Officials said it's unclear how many homeless residents remain at the camps. Eight people had accepted outreach services from the city by Wednesday afternoon, while about 130 others have engaged with homeless outreach and relocated since the city's first efforts to intervene. 

The encampments formed in June to call attention to the chronic homelessness in Philadelphia, a problem caused by insufficient housing for low-income residents and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. More than 230 people lived in the encampments at their peak. 

Months of negotiations between the encampment organizers and the city broke down in August over the issue of immediate permanent housing, which the protesters demanded should come from Philadelphia Housing Authority's stock of vacant properties.

City officials have insisted the PHA properties are blighted, unfit for use and cannot immediately be transferred to the protesters without intervention by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city has outlined a series of steps and initiatives it is taking on to address the demands of the protesters, many of whom say the temporary shelter options available to them now are inadequate and unsafe compared to the encampments. 

A legal challenge to prevent the city from evicting encampment residents was rejected by a federal judge in August, leading to the Sept. 9 deadline to clear the encampments. The city has cited hundreds of complaints from residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the encampments, from unsafe conditions to the delay of a grocery store construction project near Philadelphia Housing Authority headquarters.

"I think all of us agree with the long-term goals of those who organized the camp, those organizations, in terms of the need for affordable housing, particularly very low-income people," said Eva Gladstein, the city's deputy managing director for health and human services. "

Kenney reiterated that the city is evaluating how best to proceed, with the hope of working with encampment leaders and advocates on a peaceful resolution. 

"We're assessing our situation and we will make a move when we make it," Kenney said. "We've been authorized by a federal judge to move the encampment. We've tried to avoid, over months and months of time, any kind of confrontation. And we've been attempting to do it in an amicable and helpful way." 

The mayor did not rule out the possibility of more forceful action to end the encampments, but did not say when that time would come. 

"We will make that decision when we're ready to go," Kenney said.