The homeless encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a focus of anger and division as well as pride and unity since its inception in June, will be “amicably” closed down “by the end of the week,” city officials announced Tuesday evening.
The estimated 150 occupants of the site have agreed to voluntarily walk away from the ball field on which they’ve resided in tents. City officials were vague about the exact time and day.
Under terms of the agreement, the city and the Philadelphia Housing Authority will transfer 50 properties to a land trust established by the encampment residents. Not yet specified, the properties are expected to be in West Philadelphia and North Philadelphia, an encampment organizer said.
In addition, the city will move forward with the planned development of two tiny house villages, one with 10 to 12 self-contained units, the other with communal kitchens and bathrooms to accommodate 10 to 12 people. Officials said the sites are expected to be developed by the end of the year.
Last Monday, after more than three months of standoffs and acrimony, the occupants of a homeless encampment outside the headquarters of the PHA on Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia vacated that site.
In exchange for leaving, the 20 residents began a process that will eventually get them into nine now-vacant houses in Strawberry Mansion. Several of the people experiencing homelessness will themselves work on the rehabilitation of the houses.
Both encampments were scheduled to be shut down on three separate occasions, but each time, the city reconsidered, fearing the possibility of violence during a clear out.
“As with last week’s resolution of the Ridge Avenue camp, this agreement is the result of a lot of hard work by all of those involved,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday. “And I thank everyone for their efforts. This took a long time, but an amicable resolution was always my goal, and I’m pleased that this has been achieved.”
Jennifer Bennetch, an organizer of both encampments and founder of Occupy PHA, said Tuesday that she felt “mixed emotions.”
The experience was a “tumultuous ride of ups and downs and a lot of anger over time, and now we’re moving on to a new phase. It’s exciting, but it’s sad to separate from something we built.”
Sterling Johnson, an organizer and an activist with the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, said, “We would not be here if not for all of the activists that have sacrificed their bodies for racial and economic justice. The whole point of our protest was to make sure everybody had a house.”
Local neighbors, while expressing sympathy for the homeless since the encampment was begun on June 10, made known their resentment that the tent village had blossomed in their midst in the first place, expanding from Von Colln Memorial Field at North 22nd Street to the grounds of the Rodin Museum and the nearby Azalea Garden.
Aware of their feelings, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who stressed that he’s “dedicated to the cause of affordable housing,” also said the residents of Logan Square, Fairmount, and Spring Garden “have the right to live in peace and safety, and this agreement helps preserve that right.”
The encampment was known as the “James Talib-Dean Camp” in memory of James Talib-Dean Campbell, 34, of Blackwood, part of the Workers Revolutionary Collective and an organizer of the encampment. Campbell died of an overdose in June.
Organizers said the encampment was part of the Black Lives Matter movement and was a protest expressing their belief that the city wasn’t doing enough to help those experiencing homelessness.
The encampment became a cause for residents of the city, suburbs, and beyond to rally around. Donations of food, water, and other necessities poured in constantly, and the site had a medical tent, kitchen, library, and other amenities.
But there were problems, too, including two stabbings and other reported violence. Area residents said they were frequently accosted by inhabitants of the encampment, and they complained about trash, needles, and people defecating on the ball field.
On Tuesday evening, Dennis Boylan, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, pointed out that the accord “came on Day 126 of the encampment.” He added, “We’re glad things have worked out for the city and the encampment. And I’m glad it’s a peaceful resolution.”
According to the agreement, the transfer of the 50 properties will be accomplished in phases within six months.
Pleased that those who lived in tents on the ball field will be housed, Stephanie Sena, a professor who teaches courses on poverty at the Widger School of Law at Villanova University, said Tuesday night, “The peaceful decampment is the conclusion of the largest housing justice victory in the country.” Sena spearheaded the proposal to build tiny homes. She filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in August to stay the city’s hand in clearing out the encampment.
“This paves the way for homeless activists in other cities throughout the country. We will continue this fight until all our neighbors are housed.”