Activists drop lawsuit on behalf of homeless people in Kensington, and city holds off on clear-out
The city won't "resolve" the encampments before Aug. 1. As the weekend started, an uneasy peace descended, as all parties regrouped, knowing they’d face off again soon.
Activists representing people experiencing homelessness in Kensington dropped their lawsuit this week against Mayor Jim Kenney and his administration.
In exchange, city officials said they would not clear out those who’ve been sleeping on sidewalks before Aug. 1.
But the activists, led by Stephanie Sena, a professor at the Charles Widger School of Law at Villanova University, said they plan to refile their suit within the next three weeks.
As the weekend started, an uneasy peace descended, as all parties regrouped, knowing they’d face off again soon.
A city spokesperson said in a statement Friday afternoon, “We are currently developing a timeline for an encampment resolution. Aug. 1 is ... the earliest date that the City could proceed with a resolution.
“We are continuing to provide services in Kensington, offering housing and treatment. In the Wellness and Treatment Resources Fairs held weekly in McPherson Park since June 21, close to 20 people were placed in housing or treatment residences.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court last month, was dropped Wednesday because only one of Sena’s 11 plaintiffs in the matter showed up in Judge Eduardo C. Robreno’s courtroom.
“Many of our plaintiffs are in active addiction and several were feeling intimidated, making it difficult to get them to court to testify,” Sena said. “They were starting to feel pain from weaning themselves from drugs. This is an incredibly vulnerable population.”
She added that among the plaintiffs, “there were just a lot of nerves. Our lead plaintiff was crying, and his wife said he was anxious to testify against a city he said was intimidating him.”
Robreno dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, paving the way for a refiling.
Sena said the 11 had submitted affidavits to the court indicating that they wanted to be allowed to remain encamped in Kensington unless housing was made available to them. She said plaintiffs also complained that they were being harassed by police who have been removing their belongings.
The city says it’s throwing away only things that have been abandoned as trash.
Game of stop-the-clock
The city had announced it would clear out people who are experiencing homelessness in Kensington by 9 a.m. on June 16. Its intentions were printed on orange metal signs bolted to poles in the neighborhood since May.
Sena’s lawsuit was filed June 15, and the city put the clear-out on hold.
On June 16, dozens of supporters of those who are homeless showed up, as did members of the community weary of having people, many of them addicted to drugs, living on their sidewalks.
The confrontation that many had predicted never materialized. Rather than scream at each other, the groups decided to express solidarity with those who are homeless, and, in varying degrees, to exhort the city to work harder to house people who are addicted to drugs and living on the streets.
On Friday afternoon, Sonja Bingham, 52, a nearby Harrowgate resident and vocal neighborhood leader, characterized the plaintiffs’ plans to withdraw their case, then refile later in the month, as a “game of stop-the-clock,” meant to forestall a clear-out.
“This remains a problem for the residents,” Bingham said. “I empathize with the plight of the un-housed. But we have to encounter and endure much as a result of their situation.
“Not 20 minutes ago, a drug user was zombie-ing out on my block. I said, ‘Sir, please move,’ but he was incoherent. So I called the police to have him removed. We are becoming exhausted. This is every day.”
Needles, human feces, and open sex are on the list of things residents say they don’t want their children to have to see each day.