5:15 PM - August 18, 2020
5:15 PM - August 18, 2020

Plans to clear encampments on hold through at least Thursday

A Philadelphia police cruiser drives past the homeless encampment. Homeless encampment at 22nd and Ben Franklin Parkway on Tuesday morning August 18, 2020. The police posted signs earlier in week informing the camp it was scheduled to be cleared this Tuesday.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
A Philadelphia police cruiser drives past the homeless encampment. Homeless encampment at 22nd and Ben Franklin Parkway on Tuesday morning August 18, 2020. The police posted signs earlier in week informing the camp it was scheduled to be cleared this Tuesday.

The city of Philadelphia has placed plans to clear homeless encampments on hold until at least Thursday, when a lawsuit filed by residents will get a hearing in federal court.

City officials this week posted notice they planned to clear the encampments this morning at 9 a.m., but attorneys representing residents filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order barring the city from evicting them. Attorneys wrote in the complaint the city was violating the residents’ right to protest and keep property.

Advocates for the residents living in the encampments said District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, asked city officials in a conference call this afternoon to avoid clearing the encampment until a full hearing, with testimony from residents, can be held Thursday.

A city spokesperson said Tuesday that until the hearing, their efforts “to offer wide-ranging services to those in the encampments will continue,” though “no other action to resolve the encampments are currently planned.”

Mayor Jim Kenney said in a 1 p.m. press conference that the administration would postpone its planned removal of residents in the homeless encampments until the federal judge rules on the request for an injunction.

Still, he said without an amicable resolution with organizers or blocking from a federal judge, a sweep of the encampments was “imminent.”

The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday.

— Anna Orso, Sean Collins Walsh

2:18 PM - August 18, 2020
2:18 PM - August 18, 2020

Kenney says negotiations with the encampments at an impasse, but evictions are halted until a federal judge rules

The city will postpone its planned removal of residents in homeless encampments until a federal judge rules on an injunction filed Tuesday by organizers of the camps, Mayor Jim Kenney said.

Negotiations between the city and the organizers, however, have reached an impasse, and Kenney said the forced removal of the camps remains “imminent” because of deteriorating conditions, including increasing reports of drugs, violence, and human defecation.

”They’re getting more violent. They’re getting more filled with drugs,” Kenney said at a virtual news conference. “It’s not tenable, and it’s not sustainable. … I think we’ve done everything we can to meet them at least halfway and more.”

The organizers of the encampments filed the injunction to prevent evictions after the city posted notices instructing residents to disband by 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Kenney said the city has complied with more than 20 of the demands presented by residents of the three camps along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, outside the Philadelphia Housing Authority headquarters and in the Azalea Garden by the Art Museum.

But, Kenney said, his administration cannot accede to their primary demand, that the residents be allowed to move into vacant properties owned by the city or the PHA, without state or federal cooperation. Kenney also said that the planned removals were delayed to allow City Councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier to attempt to work with both sides to reach an agreement.

— Sean Collins Walsh

11:25 AM - August 18, 2020
11:25 AM - August 18, 2020

Kenney administration meets with encampment organizers

Two hours after the city’s 9 a.m. Tuesday deadline for the encampments to disband, members of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration are once again meeting with leaders of the camps, Kenney spokesperson Mike Dunn said.

Dunn described the meeting as a “discussion,” but declined to provide details on where it was taking place and who was participating. Residents of the three tent encampments — on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in the Azalea Garden near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and outside the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s North Philly headquarters — have said they will not disband unless they are offered permanent housing options. The city has offered to connect them with social services and temporary housing opportunities, while vowing to work on housing policies in the long term.

Late Monday, City Councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier called on Kenney’s administration to return to the bargaining table to find a negotiated solution to the encampments and avoid a forceful removal.

— Sean Collins Walsh

11:10 AM - August 18, 2020
11:10 AM - August 18, 2020

Organizers block traffic near the Parkway encampment

Organizers block part of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to traffic.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Organizers block part of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to traffic.

Around 10:40 a.m., while chanting “whose streets, our streets” and “block party,” several activists and residents of the encampment on the Parkway used metal barricades to block the westbound lane of traffic closest to the site. Traffic is detouring north on 22nd Street.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

10:51 AM - August 18, 2020
10:51 AM - August 18, 2020

Encampments sue city to halt evictions

Attorneys representing residents of two homeless encampments in Philadelphia have sued the city in federal court, asking a judge to halt an eviction of the tent cities that was slated for Tuesday.

Criminal defense attorney Michael N. Huff, representing encampment residents pro bono, said he and others were working Tuesday morning to physically serve the city, a process that has proved challenging amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint, which asks a judge to issue a temporary restraining order barring the evictions, argues the city and Mayor Jim Kenney are violating the residents’ First Amendment right to protest. The encampments, while serving as a place to live for the unhoused, have also been tied to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Organizers are generally activists who are demanding a permanent housing solution — not a shelter — for the dozens of residents.

Dissolving the camps, the complaint reads, would “put Plaintiffs at substantial risk of loss of property and of contracting COVID-19, and would deprive Plaintiffs of their First Amendment right to protest.”

City spokesperson Mike Dunn said the Law Department was still reviewing the filing and “can’t speak to its merits.” He added: “the decision to resolve the matter comes in light of the severe health and public safety issues that have arisen from the encampments, as we are confident of our ability to demonstrate this to a Court.”

As of 11 a.m., city officials were meeting with encampment organizers and continuing negotiations.

Stephanie Sena, an advocate for people experiencing homelessness and a faculty member at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law, said she and a student organized the filing.

She said the tent encampment is not ideal, and the goal is permanent housing, but sweeping the area isn’t the answer.

”But because there is no housing available and the city is giving very limited options to people — I would say no options — then in lieu of a better option, this is the best we have right now,” Sena said. “And we believe a sweep is deadly, because the reason people put themselves up at encampments is because they can access services better including a medic, food donation, and running water.”

— Anna Orso, Samantha Melamed

10:30 AM - August 18, 2020
10:30 AM - August 18, 2020
10:15 AM - August 18, 2020
10:15 AM - August 18, 2020

Council members support the encampments

At the Parkway encampment, Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said the city needs to return to the table with activists.

”I think we are close to a peaceful successful resolution,” she said.

She said she respects protesters’ demands and said people should have “real, safe, permanent housing solutions.” Ensuring that kind of housing might require the city to be “a little more creative,” but the city must “put the work in,” she said.

Gauthier was joined by colleague Kendra Brooks. The two joined together last night to write a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney, urging the mayor to return to the negotiating table.

— Aubrey Whelan

9:32 AM - August 18, 2020
9:32 AM - August 18, 2020

Organizers skeptical of the city, but emboldened by volunteers

Alex Stewart, an organizer with the Workers Revolutionary Collective, said he felt the city is “assessing the ability for us to defend” the camp.

He said the camp had been calm overnight and that people he believed were city employees had been filming the camp over the last day or so, but no city staffers had entered the camp.

He said residents were keeping their spirits up despite the threat of eviction.

Displacement from the places they’ve been sheltering in “is what unhoused people go through all the time,” he said. “To be here and protect them is a blessing.”

Sterling Johnson, an advocate working with camp residents, said they were impressed by how many people had showed up to the Parkway encampment. “People come out for eviction defense nowadays. It used to be 10 people and now it’s like hundreds,” they said. “People understand the thing you have to do is come out.”

They said they were encouraged by younger people living in the camp who have become active as organizers themselves: “A whole new set of leaders is coming from this encampment.”

— Aubrey Whelan

9:27 AM - August 18, 2020
9:27 AM - August 18, 2020

Deadline to clear the encampments passes

The encampment at Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street is photographed early Tuesday morning in North Philadelphia on Aug. 18, 2020. The city posted notices that the homeless encampments on the Parkway and Ridge Avenue must close by Tuesday.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
The encampment at Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street is photographed early Tuesday morning in North Philadelphia on Aug. 18, 2020. The city posted notices that the homeless encampments on the Parkway and Ridge Avenue must close by Tuesday.

The 9 a.m. deadline set by the city for people to clear the encampment came and went Tuesday with no police presence at Ridge Avenue or the Parkway.

Volunteers and activists at the Ridge Avenue encampment steadily trickled in all morning, touting cases of water, sunscreen and other supplies. Organizers said they had no plans on leaving, and scoffed at the offer by city officials to relocate people and store their belongings.

Members of the camp bristled at the media, cursing helicopters that buzzed overhead. Otherwise the group had a jovial attitude, playing music and laughing.

— Vinny Vella

9:15 AM - August 18, 2020
9:15 AM - August 18, 2020

City indicates it will not forcibly remove people from the encampments

Philadelphia officials have indicated they will not forcibly remove people from the encampments this morning, but instead will try to help them find housing and encourage them to leave on their own.

”Our focus at this point remains on securing services for those individuals at the camp, and today those outreach efforts continue,” a city spokesperson said in a statement. “We strongly believe that those in the camp will voluntarily decamp, and avail themselves of the services being offered.”

The city will “make every effort” to connect encampment residents to services, store their belongings, and provide transportation to other housing, he said. All of this, he added, is to encourage voluntary departures.”We are hopeful that no one on site will refuse to leave,” the spokesperson said.

The city has already relocated 88 people from the encampments to shelters, residential treatment centers, and other housing, including hotel rooms for the elderly and others particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, he said. Four of those people, he added, have been placed in new housing since the notice of eviction was posted at the camps on Monday.

Jen Bennetch, an organizer at Ridge Avenue, dismissed the statement from the mayor’s office as a nonstarter. “I still don’t believe people are going to leave voluntarily when they don’t have no place to go,” she said.

”They say they’re going to store their stuff, but where are they going?”

— Erin McCarthy, Julie Shaw, Mensah M. Dean

9:00 AM - August 18, 2020
9:00 AM - August 18, 2020

Organizers build barricades

— Raishad Hardnett

8:55 AM - August 18, 2020
8:55 AM - August 18, 2020

‘I have no place else to go'

Indigo, 20, a former Temple University global studies student, speaks about living at the encampment at Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street. The city posted notices that the homeless encampments on the Parkway and Ridge Avenue must close by Tuesday.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Indigo, 20, a former Temple University global studies student, speaks about living at the encampment at Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street. The city posted notices that the homeless encampments on the Parkway and Ridge Avenue must close by Tuesday.

Indigo, 20, a former Temple University global studies student, spent part of the morning barefoot relaxing on a homemade swing attached to a tree. Still, they were concerned that the place they’ve called home since June could be invaded by police.

”If the police come we stand here and protect what’s ours. We really don’t have a choice,” said Indigo, who added that the encampment residents have become a family.

”All my belonging are here. I have no place else to go. So I’m not going to let the police trash my stuff, and neither are the other residents,” they said. “We have no intention of leaving. This is our home. We will stand here and defend it with our bodies.”

— Mensah M. Dean

8:48 AM - August 18, 2020
8:48 AM - August 18, 2020

How the city has handled other encampments

The city’s tactics for handling the encampments on Ridge Avenue and the Parkway differ from how the evictions along Lehigh Avenue in Kensington were handled. It took almost a year for the city to even start evicting people from those encampments.

There was a 30-day warning for the eviction and everyone in the camp was guaranteed a spot in a shelter or treatment. Police and outreach workers showed up very early on the morning of the eviction to try to get the last few people inside. The police would clear the street and a trash truck would pick up whatever trash was left behind.

The biggest difference between the Parkway and Ridge Avenue and the Kensington encampments is that people were not protesting in Kensington, where many were in deep addiction with no place else to go. There, some people were heading to “navigation centers” — shelters that are designed to transition people into long term treatment or permanent housing.

— Aubrey Whelan

8:33 AM - August 18, 2020
8:33 AM - August 18, 2020

‘We’re here to stand strong'

Jen Bennetch, 35, is one of the organizers of the Ridge Avenue encampment. She said if police arrive they will be ready.

”We’re here to stand strong, that’s what the residents want to do. We’re tired of being kicked around,” she said Tuesday. She noted that many had been evicted from other encampments.

She accused the Philadelphia Housing Authority of “fraud, waste and mismanagement,” for allowing properties to sit vacant while people live in encampments like the one she has lived in since late June.

— Mensah M. Dean

8:00 AM - August 18, 2020
8:00 AM - August 18, 2020

Activists guard the Parkway encampment

People use wood pallets to block of entrances to the field along 23rd Street in preparation for a possible eviction from the encampment at 22nd and the Parkway, in Philadelphia, August 18, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
People use wood pallets to block of entrances to the field along 23rd Street in preparation for a possible eviction from the encampment at 22nd and the Parkway, in Philadelphia, August 18, 2020.

Just before 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, a group of around 75 activists assembled on the baseball field at the Parkway in anticipation of warnings that the city would evict the encampment starting at 9 a.m. Dressed in black clothing and face masks, the group piled wooden pallets at the entrances to the encampment, while others stood guard around the perimeter.

People in helmets line the perimeter of the park with homemade shields — made of plywood, plastic and other materials. Residents and advocates who spent the night here said it was quiet overnight, a contrast to the last eviction threat, when the cops were present even though the move had already been called off, they said. There’s been no sign of police or city officials so far Tuesday morning.

— Oona Goodin-Smith, Aubrey Whelan

7:51 AM - August 18, 2020
7:51 AM - August 18, 2020

Council members ask Kenney to return to the negotiating table

Two Philadelphia City Council members have asked officials not to clear the homeless encampments, and instead “return to the negotiating table as soon as possible in hopes of coming to an amicable resolution.” The message from Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier came in a letter they penned to Mayor Jim Kenney and posted on Twitter late Monday.

Both of their offices have been in communication with encampment organizers, and they said they’d like to be in the room for future negotiations between organizers and the city.

”Addressing the housing crisis will take collaboration and partnership on the part of all elected officials, federal agencies, community members, and organizers,” they wrote. “We have no time to waste.”

— Erin McCarthy

6:00 AM - August 18, 2020
6:00 AM - August 18, 2020

Camp occupants consider their next steps

At the parkway encampment on Monday, occupants and organizers were working through their next steps.

Someone had laid one of the city’s orange metal signs warning of Tuesday’s eviction on the camp’s donation table, its message a bright, unmistakable reminder that no more charitable assistance will be forthcoming on the Parkway.

Upon hearing the news, some residents began packing their things, having decided to sleep on the streets elsewhere. Others hoped to enter shelters, even though many had come to the camp to avoid the shelter system.

One man said he’d left the camp for a city shelter a few weeks ago, only to return to the Parkway. The shelter’s curfew hours had clashed with his shifts at a construction site. He liked the relative privacy of his tent staked to the ball field, and the fact that he could come and go as he pleased. On Monday, with a clear-out looming, the man — who asked not to be named because of privacy issues — was hoping to find a city outreach worker so he could reenter a shelter.

The situation wasn’t ideal, but he was unsure what other option he had. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” he said.

— Aubrey Whelan, Alfred Lubrano

5:45 AM - August 18, 2020
5:45 AM - August 18, 2020

Photos: City officials post notices saying camps will be shuttered

City employees post a second notice sign from the City of Philadelphia at the encampment at 22nd and the Parkway on Monday.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
City employees post a second notice sign from the City of Philadelphia at the encampment at 22nd and the Parkway on Monday.
A Park Ranger walks past tents at 22nd and the Parkway. The Ranger was there to deliver a second notice to people camping at the site on Monday.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A Park Ranger walks past tents at 22nd and the Parkway. The Ranger was there to deliver a second notice to people camping at the site on Monday.
City employees post a second notice sign at the encampment at 22nd Street and the Parkway on Monday.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
City employees post a second notice sign at the encampment at 22nd Street and the Parkway on Monday.

— Jessica Griffin

5:00 AM - August 18, 2020
5:00 AM - August 18, 2020

Philly says encampments on the Parkway and on Ridge Avenue must close

A Park Ranger, at 22nd and the Parkway, the Ranger was there to deliver a second notice from the City of Philadelphia, to people camping at 22nd and the Parkway, August 17, 2020, in Philadelphia.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A Park Ranger, at 22nd and the Parkway, the Ranger was there to deliver a second notice from the City of Philadelphia, to people camping at 22nd and the Parkway, August 17, 2020, in Philadelphia.

Having endured withering heat waves, an omnipresent pandemic, and a succession of storms — both political and meteorological — since its inception 69 days ago, the homeless encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is scheduled to be cleared out by 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Throughout the summer, far-flung supporters from the suburbs and other communities rallied to buttress the site of 100 to 150 occupants as nearby neighbors railed against it.

In the end, city officials who had been negotiating with encampment organizers to find a way to house those who live rough and open in Center City declared the issues that separated the parties insurmountable. Further talks, Mayor Jim Kenney said, would be “fruitless.”

Officials then ordered the site shuttered by posting signs at 9 a.m. Monday on the ball field of tents on N. 22nd St. that has become an urban village, as well as a lightening rod for issues of poverty, equality, race, mental health, and drug addiction.

“After several weeks of face-to-face discussions, and more than two months of concerted efforts by our administration, I have come to the conclusion that further negotiations would be fruitless,” Kenney said in a statement. “I take this step again with a heavy heart, as a last resort, and in recognition of the growing health and safety concerns at the sites.”

A similar notice announced the shuttering of a smaller encampment on Ridge Avenue protesting policies of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

— Alfred Lubrano, Aubrey Whelan