For months, Jose Benitez had heard talk that something was finally going to be done about Tent City.

That city and state officials were finally going to address the homeless encampment where 75 to 100 addicted men live in tents and shacks along the railroad tracks in Fairhill, and where hundreds more from across the city and suburbs stream through each week to shoot heroin.

That one of the poorest, most drug-ravaged sections of our city would finally be rid of an enormous, dangerous blight.

That the people suffering along the railway bed would finally get the help they need.

But Benitez, director of Prevention Point Philadelphia, a needle-exchange program, has heard this talk before.

So when the winter cold came, and still nothing had been done, he took action.

With the group's outreach workers treating Tent City denizens for frostbite, Benitez transformed Prevention Point's Kensington Avenue office into a makeshift shelter earlier this month.

"A pop-up shelter," he calls it.

City agencies told him they had no money for it.

Benitez did it anyway.

With the help of donations, he set down 22 cots in the basement of the former church where Prevention Point runs its outreach programs.

"It was to save people from freezing to death," he said Thursday, as men began to drift in from Tent City. "We have 22 beds and the only reason we have 22 beds is because we can't fit any more."

One of the men at the shelter said he lived in a tent under the railway bridge for two years.

"It's hell," he said. "You wake up sick. If you don't have money, you got to hustle, sell drugs or steal from the stores to get high."

As I've said in earlier columns on Tent City, clearing the decades-old camp - and treating and sheltering the people there - will take a committed and collaborative strategy. It will take strong leadership from City Hall and buy-in from state and federal leaders.

And that's never happened.

The fact that Benitez's shelter remains open, though, is an encouraging sign. Maybe the city is finally grasping the scope of the problem.

After Benitez opened his basement, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who has long been working to draw attention to Tent City, quickly brought Licenses and Inspections Commissioner David Perri for a tour and led him through the needle-strewn slopes of Tent City.

The shelter stayed open.

After it became clear nothing was going to happen on Tent City in the final days of the Nutter administration, Quiñones-Sánchez said she shelved her efforts until Mayor Kenney took office.

With help from the Managing Director's Office, Quiñones-Sánchez has been getting other key officials - from the Streets Department to the offices of Behavioral Health and Supporting Housing as well as representatives from Conrail - to the table. And neighborhood development groups are doing their part on the ground.

"We wanted to create a situation where there's no more deniability," Quiñones-Sánchez said. "Everybody is going to be asked to put something on the table."

The goal is to have the workings of a plan in place in the next few weeks, said Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis. And then start to act on it.

This is encouraging. But it's still talk.

Meanwhile, Benitez's 22 cots are all full and Tent City is as crowded and busy as ever.

On Thursday, a steady stream of people shuffled down to Tent City's tarp-covered shacks, where heroin and crack and coke are sold - and where, for a few dollars more, men in the "doctor's tent" hawk clean needles and inject those who cannot find minable veins on their own.

Down the slope, amid mountains of trash, men injected themselves by the warmth of kerosene heaters and trash-bin fires.

From the bridge, a woman yelled down in anger in Spanish. Her home had been burglarized. She believed her belongings were in Tent City.

Some men came out from the shacks. "Shut up!" one yelled. Then the men went back inside their shacks.

mnewall@phillynews.com215-854-2759