While city officials have publicly announced plans to disband the large homeless encampment on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Friday, a second encampment outside the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s headquarters has also quietly received notice to vacate by the same deadline.
The encampment, in a vacant lot on the corner of Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street in Sharswood, began June 27 to protest the housing authority’s leadership, property management, and treatment of the city’s homeless.
As of Wednesday, about 30 people were living in tents in the lot, supported by donations of food, drinks, clothing, tents, and medical supplies. Signs saying “All are welcome here” were posted along a wooden fence around the lot.
PHA police approached the group, which has named itself Camp Teddy after a resident, Tuesday and posted notices that they must vacate the premises by Friday at 10 a.m., nearly the same deadline the city has given the encampment of more than 150 people experiencing homelessness at 22nd Street and Ben Franklin Parkway.
“The Philadelphia Housing Authority has not authorized you to use this property to erect a tent or other structure, or otherwise camp, at this location,” the laminated notice read. “The conditions post a hazard to life, health, safety, and welfare of the individuals in tents, the nearby residents, and the public at large.”
“We feel like this was very strategically planned,” Occupy PHA organizer Jennifer Bennetch said during a news conference Wednesday. “They gave very little notice and never made any effort to do any sort of outreach.”
“Conversations between the City and the group are ongoing and we’re still hoping to reach a reasonable outcome,” said Deana Gamble, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. “The City continues to make every effort to assist homeless individuals who are at the camp to connect to services and leave voluntarily.”
A spokesperson for PHA said the agency had no comment Wednesday.
Some of the residents said they came to this space from the encampment on the Parkway after it grew crowded and less safe. Though this group is separate, its demands are similar, including increasing access to vacant PHA housing for low-income residents and restrictions on selling off PHA property. They also seek an end to the clearing of homeless encampments, and permission to camp or set up tiny-house developments anywhere in the city.
City officials had been in negotiations with the Parkway encampment organizers, but the talks collapsed.
Sharswood encampment residents said they will not leave by Friday — a stance the Parkway encampment has also taken — and criticized how the housing authority has treated them. On June 30, PHA brought in bulldozers, a cement mixer, and a work crew to fence the lot and try to force out the residents. They said that PHA police frequently park alongside the encampment and keep watch.
“They come down and watch us like we’re a band of criminals,” said Robert Junious, a resident of the encampment. “All we’re doing is setting up a garden and taking care of our residents.”
“I can’t do it no more,” said Nicholas Molinuevo, who has been homeless for 10 years. “All we want is a little bit of housing. I want to turn my key and go home.”
The Philadelphia Housing Authority — the fourth-largest housing authority in the country and largest landlord in Pennsylvania — is a municipal authority that oversees public housing and voucher programs. The PHA built its five-story, $45 million headquarters in Sharswood as part of its commitment to help rebuild the Ridge Avenue commercial corridor, a once vibrant African American neighborhood that was devastated by 1964 riots and never rebuilt.
Earlier this year, PHA received a $30 million federal grant for revitalization of Sharswood, including additional low-income housing and a shopping center with a much-needed grocery store. In a statement, the PHA has said that the encampment’s location is inhibiting these plans.
Organizers like Bennetch questioned why the housing authority has built new developments instead of repairing vacant properties that could house needy residents.
“PHA finds money for what PHA wants to find money for,” Bennetch said.
Bennetch and volunteers have recently helped 10 families move into vacant PHA-owned properties that required minimal upkeep.
The housing authority has also said that neighborhood residents have complained, though neighbors stopped by the encampment Wednesday, wishing the group luck and telling them to stay strong.
“It’s the mismanagement of the PHA that has us in this place today,” said Ruth Birchett, a lifelong neighborhood resident who has volunteered to help.