Over the course of the past several months, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association has been portrayed as either villains or saints depending on who you speak to. We are neither. We are residents of a neighborhood that we love. We have enviable amenities: proximity to world-class cultural institutions, walkable city streets, convenient access to restaurants and retail, beautiful public parks, public transportation, and the coveted spine of our neighborhood — the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia’s Main Street. The Parkway is where Philadelphia comes to celebrate, protest, enjoy, and it attracts thousands of visitors and tourists. But issues of the past several months have called into question our love affair.
Despite three efforts to relocate residents of the JTD encampment at 22nd Street and the Parkway, negotiations have reached an impasse. We are eyewitnesses to the convergence of decades of economic and housing policies that have plagued our city and nation. A recent article in Billy Penn suggested: “There’s never been enough affordable housing to go around. Philly has had housing insecurity problems for at least a century.”
Our neighborhood has long been home to unsheltered residents that included a Parkway encampment at the former Youth Study Center that is now the Barnes. There was an encampment along the old Reading Railroad tracks, hopefully one day to become part of the Rail Park. In the 1930s there was an encampment burrowed into the side of “Fairmount” as the Philadelphia Museum of Art was being constructed. And for decades, church-affiliated organizations have seen Parkway public feedings as essential to their mission. While we are not unfamiliar with the plight of homelessness, we have never had a tent city in Von Colln Memorial Field, 22nd Street blocked, and half the Rodin grounds fenced off.
We have been advocates for restoring dignity to homeless residents by calling for indoor meals and access to social services from the city. We have advocated on behalf of housing insecure residents over several administrations, and supported the establishment of the Hub of Hope to offer unsheltered Philadelphians solace and social services, showers, and laundry services. We have also made it a top priority to establish affordable housing in our neighborhood development plan to ensure diversity. As a Registered Community Organization (RCO), we make affordable housing an issue in fulfilling our duties for civic planning, which includes our Parkway plan.
We don’t have immediate answers for housing options for the JTD residents, but we do know that living in tents outdoors is no way to live. We can only hope that the Kenney administration will use this opportunity to forge a new destiny for the city’s unsheltered residents and take a serious approach to affordable housing. We urge policymakers to recognize that living outdoors on Von Colln Memorial Field, Sharswood, or anywhere in our city is no substitute for a roof over one’s head and a place to call home. The JTD encampment amplifies issues of housing, health, and safety for the Logan Square neighborhood in and outside the encampment. But the current camp conditions and the environment it has created have had a considerable impact on the camp, neighborhood, and surrounding area. It is unsustainable and untenable for all.
Last week at our monthly meeting, our association agreement was for there to be a peaceful nonviolent resolution of the encampment. Going forward, we as a city should commit to policies for a long-term housing solution for our fellow unhoused Philadelphians that meet long-overdue needs and closes the encampment.
Dennis J. Boylan is the president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA).