City officials will provide a timeline to organizers of the homeless encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway this week indicating when the camp of about 100 people will be disassembled, a city spokesperson said Monday. No further details were released.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia police officials said Monday that an investigation is ongoing into the stabbing Sunday afternoon of a man found bleeding at the encampment at North 22nd Street. Described only as a 26-year-old Black man, the victim had been taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital by police in critical condition after being stabbed multiple times in a fight.
Police said Monday that the man had been a resident of the encampment. They added that “the offenders” responsible for the stabbing had fled before the arrival of police. Police said that there was a second stabbing in the area over the weekend, but neither the victim nor the perpetrator were known to have been in the encampment.
City officials have been negotiating with representatives of the encampment, formed nearly three weeks ago. Organizers have presented demands on behalf of its residents.
City spokesperson Mike Dunn said officials are “actively working” to develop a tiny-house village for encampment residents, and will “seriously consider” allowing the creation of an encampment at another location.
Both the tiny houses and a sanctioned encampment were among the demands, which also called for police to be disarmed and for the site to be sanctioned by the city as a permanent “no police zone,” similar to the much larger section of Seattle commandeered by activists in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
That police had to be called to the Parkway encampment for the stabbing was labeled as “irony” by one advocate for the homeless.
In a related matter, Dunn said Monday that the city is “in constant communication” with the Fairmount Sports Association, a league that has overseen softball and baseball play in the park for more than 60 years. Dunn said that city officials have “tried convincing” encampment organizers to shrink the camp’s footprint to allow for some sports activity when restrictions caused by the coronavirus allow. That hasn’t proved successful, Dunn said.
Sterling Johnson, a leader of the encampment who has been negotiating with city officials, could not be reached Monday for comment.
As time has gone on, the encampment has become more challenging for advocates for the homeless, as well as for residents of the Logan Square neighborhood and city officials.
Advocates said Monday they’re concerned that, because encampment organizers chased away outreach workers who help the homeless, residents will suffer without the specialized services they need. Organizers denied that outreach workers were sent away.
“These are severely mentally ill people for whom living in an encampment is not appropriate,” said an advocate who asked for anonymity in exchange for an assessment of camp conditions. “When they use drugs and they’re living together, things can get more explosive, like we saw with the stabbing.”
Another advocate, who asked not to be named because the person does not have official permission to speak to the media, said outreach workers have built relationships with residents, many of whom have lived homeless in Center City. “There’s now a break in relationship-building,” the advocate said. “These are unstable people, and an outreach team can do a good job working with them.”
Organizers for the encampment have disputed that thinking, saying the encampment residents — many of whom are resistant to living in shelters — have rejected the help of outreach workers in the past and do not need it now.
Neighborhood people have expressed concern for everyone involved in the encampment.
“Three weeks living on a baseball field is not good for the health of the people there,” said Dennis Boylan, president of the Logan Square Neighbors Association. “And the neighborhood is seeing human feces in parking lots in the area. There is a moral imperative to solve this. I’m frustrated at this point.”
Dunn said city officials are “very concerned about the growing health and safety issues at the camp.”
In a sign of progress, Dunn said that more than two dozen residents of the encampment have been tested for the coronavirus and offered a room in the city’s isolation/quarantine site. “To date,” he said, “no one from the camp has been referred there.” He offered no further details.
Dunn said that one of the complications in negotiations is “lack of clarity about who speaks for the group.”
Another, he said, is the organizers’ “evolving list of demands. It is difficult to negotiate when demands are changing.”
The backers of the encampment include the Workers Revolutionary Collective, #Occupy PHA, and Black and Brown Workers Cooperative. Organizers have helped shape the encampment, which has a cooking station, a library, a first aid station, musical instruments, portable bathrooms, and other amenities. People from around the city have donated food, money, and water.
Johnson, 35, who is a member of the cooperative, lives in South Philadelphia. He emphasized that “the camp is not us,” saying its internal governance is overseen by the residents.
“The whole point was a protest,” he said, “and now it’s transformed past that.” Johnson said that many of the homeless residents had been displaced from encampments before, such as one at the Convention Center on the second day of spring.