Two weeks after declaring a disaster in Kensington, the neighborhood hit hardest by Philadelphia's opioid crisis, city officials have laid out a range of "immediate" goals that include clearing a major drug encampment, launching a mobile drug-treatment team, and conducting a large-scale neighborhood cleanup — all within the next month.
Kensington's homeless population doubled this year, largely driven by opioid addiction, and the neighborhood has long been plagued by drug crises, industrial collapse, and institutional neglect. The new plan for the neighborhood includes immediate goals, to be completed by Nov. 16; short-term goals, to be accomplished by Dec. 31; and longer-term goals that should be completed by June of next year.
The city is calling the plan the "Philadelphia Resilience Project," and has tasked seven municipal agencies with collaborating daily, face-to-face, in the city's emergency operations center on Spring Garden Street. That's to cut down on the red tape and isolated operations that have tied up relief efforts in the past, city officials said. Weekly progress updates will be posted on the city's website on the opioid crisis, phila.gov/opioids.
At a news conference Thursday, officials outlined goals for several broad "mission areas": clearing drug encampments; reducing criminal activity, homelessness, trash, and overdoses; improving access to drug treatment; and helping community members respond to the epidemic.
On Nov. 15, city officials said, they aim to clear the Frankford Avenue heroin encampment in the same way officials cleared encampments during the spring at Kensington Avenue and Tulip Street, where dozens of people had camped in tents under train bridges. The other remaining encampment at Emerald Street, the neighborhood's most entrenched, will be cleared by Jan. 15, officials said. By that time, according to the Resilience Project's goals, the city will have developed a "comprehensive strategy" to prevent other encampments from forming.
Another short-term goal is to launch a team of medical professionals who will dose people in addiction with medication-assisted treatment from mobile units on the street. Those treatments — which include opioid-replacement drugs such as methadone and Suboxone, and opioid blockers such as Vivitrol — are considered the gold standard of addiction treatment, but remain difficult to access because of strict federal regulations surrounding their prescription.
The city also is aiming to cut down on overdoses by creating a system to identify people who are particularly at risk for overdosing, so they can be referred to services before mid-November.
By Nov. 16, city officials say, they will open a 311 line dedicated entirely to Kensington. They'll also host a neighborhood cleanup on Nov. 2, and install drop boxes for discarded syringes at several SEPTA stations and in McPherson Square, which residents have long fought to keep clear of needles and people injecting drugs.
Other short-term goals for the neighborhood's permanent residents include disseminating information on the crisis more effectively — creating a community calendar, and making reports on the crisis and the city's efforts to combat it available at local libraries. Community leaders will also meet at the emergency operations center later this year to discuss the project's progress.
"I insisted as part of this process that there will be a community input process," said City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who spoke at Thursday's news conference. "If we respect the community and its experience, it will better inform the investments the city puts forward. Kensington needs to be made whole — one component is dealing with opioid addiction, but the other component is how we make this community whole again."
Mayor Kenney echoed that sentiment later.
"Success is the reduction of deaths. You can hear what you want to hear from the federal government about supervised injection sites, and [how] we're getting locked up, and all that," Kenney said, referring to the city's plan to allow the opening of a supervised injection site and federal authorities' threats to pursue legal action against anyone who operates one. "I wish they were as concerned about people dying. My definition of success is less death.
"But the second issue is putting this neighborhood back together again."