THE SMALL community of homeless people who were camped under the Interstate 95 overpass in Port Richmond packed up and left yesterday morning, as ordered to by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Over the past week, their names and faces had become known as they shared their stories.
They included Maryanne Omelchuk, 47, who said she expected to go back to sleeping "underground" near 15th Street in Center City. This morning, she planned to board a bus with Occupy Philly and the Fight for Philly coalition to head to Washington to partake in three days of rallying at an Occupy protest, expected to draw thousands from around the country.
Dexter Kinard, 34, and Brittney Burnes, 36, who befriended each other at the City Hall Occupy Philly site, have kept each other company since and said that they also plan to go to Washington. Afterward? Who knows.
Most of the homeless here had camped out with Occupy Philly at City Hall during its protest. After city officials gave notice to vacate the plaza two Sundays ago, they followed one man's idea to live in the wooded, old Conrail yard in Port Richmond, near Richmond and Cumberland streets.
But they got kicked out of the Conrail yard by police with Norfolk Southern, which co-owns Conrail. They then moved across Richmond Street to set up their tents on a paved lot under the rumbling I-95 overpass. PennDOT, which owns the property, on Saturday gave them 48 hours' notice to leave the site, citing potential safety issues to the homeless and to motorists.
They started off as about 30 people and dwindled to about 20.
Then, about 3 a.m. yesterday, seven of them left to try to find a new place to stay in an undisclosed location off Allegheny Avenue, said Kenney Ogletree, 58, who initially went with the group, but returned.
As he was packing his stuff under the I-95 overpass yesterday, he said of the other site: "It didn't seem safe to me. They're too cut off, too far in the woods."
Occupy Philly people were in Port Richmond yesterday helping the homeless put their belongings in private vehicles to be transported to a storage site.
Tony VanFossen, 40, a homeless man who had worked at the City Hall Occupy Philly food tent and who stayed at the I-95 site since Saturday, said a city-subcontracted outreach worker had told him the shelters were full. Another man, Brian, 32, who did not want to give his last name, said there was no place for his wife and him.
Dainette Mintz, director of the city's Office of Supportive Housing, said afterward: "We have been offering shelter to them, and they have been refusing shelter. So that's not true."
She said there are a "limited number of placements for couples," but couples who cannot stay together one night can be housed individually in shelters.
As PennDOT crews waited for the homeless people to clear out so they could begin sweeping the lot with a truck, Tricia Shore, a Quaker who has been trying to find a permanent home to keep this small community together, said: "These are very delicate people."
She called it a "humanitarian crisis."
Paul Klemmer, who was one of the homeless men who lived under the I-95 overpass, had written two letters about their plight.
The first letter, dated Nov. 30, was sent to Mayor Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and other officials.
The second letter, dated Dec. 4, was sent to Nutter, other city leaders and PennDOT.