Deadline to disband Parkway encampments passes; protesters remain on-site

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UPDATED: 6:30 p.m. 

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The city’s 9 a.m. deadline notifying members of the protest encampments to clear out has come and gone. 

Protesters along the Ben Franklin Parkway and in North Philadelphia did not leave Tuesday as instructed, and city officials are vowing to continue outreach efforts.

As the deadline approached, protesters were prepared for a confrontation. Many had makeshift shields made of wood or plastic, and some were wearing bicycle helmets or hard hats. 

Some members formed a blockade at the encampment entrance at 22nd Street and the Parkway. 

When the deadline passed, the city issued a statement: “We are still hopeful that people will continue to connect with service providers. Our focus at this point remains on securing services for those individuals at the camp and today our outreach efforts continue. We will make every effort to assist homeless individuals who are at the camp to connect to services and leave voluntarily. We will provide storage for personal possessions and offer transportation to housing and service options. 

“We strongly believe that those in the camp will voluntarily decamp, and avail themselves of the services being offered.”

Organizers, however, maintain that the city has not offered long-term solutions, plans for low-income housing, or help for the homeless population

“Of course, it brings a little bit of tension when they announce they’re gonna do something,” said Scott Matt, one of the encampment organizers. When 9 a.m. hit, and more hours followed, there was no sign of the city.

Encampment members putting up barricades along the Ben Franklin Parkway, so now all cars have to go up 22nd. ⁦@KYWNewsradio⁩ ⁦@KYWTraffic1060#philly pic.twitter.com/78LOR3oNgL

— Kristen Johanson (@KristenJohanson) August 18, 2020

Councilmembers Jaimie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks came by and spoke to the protesters Tuesday morning. Brooks said they want to see a peaceful resolution.

“These people are not invisible,” she said. “Dismantling this encampment will not disappear homelessness in the city.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he doesn’t want a confrontation with protesters, but efforts to resolve the situation peacefully have been frustrating.

“We’ve agreed to at least 20 different requests of the group, more than 20 actually, and their response basically is unless we meet all their demands, they’re going to stay there forever,” Kenney said. “We want to resolve this in an amicable way and we’re making every effort to do so, but you can’t negotiate with people who don’t want to give and take.” 

City officials met with the organizers for five hours Tuesday with no resolution.   Kenney said the city is running out of options, outside of shutting down the encampments.

“Conditions within the camp are getting worse and worse, they’re getting less healthy, they’re getting more violent, they’re getting more filled with drugs, they’re getting more unhealthy from a human excrement and bodily function situation and it’s just not sustainable,” he said. 

The city is set to meet with organizers again Thursday, which is also when a federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments on a request from encampment organizers for an injunction to stop the city from shutting down the camps.

The encampments are a protest against the lack of affordable housing. People have been camped out since June 10, in the wake of protests over racial injustice

This was the city’s second official notice informing the encampment to disband.

“In the interim, our efforts to offer wide-ranging services to those in the encampments will continue, and no other action to resolve the encampments are currently planned,” a city spokesperson said in a statement. 

He added that 90 people from the camp have already been placed in “shelter, residential treatment, and other housing options, including hotel rooms with private bathrooms at the COVID Prevention Spaces.” Six people have been placed in "'safe haven’ settings since Monday, when the notice was posted.”

Residents who live by the Parkway and in Fairmount have been very concerned about the sanitary conditions of the encampment, and some have mixed feelings.

Abby, who lives in an apartment across the street, said she assumed the camp would be gone by Tuesday afternoon. 

“On the one hand where are they going to go? I feel bad. On the other hand it’s a mess. I just walked by there, there’s trash all over the place, people smoking everywhere,” she said. 

Deb, who lives in the same apartment complex, said she doesn’t feel safe in her apartment. 

“At the same time, I have a lot of guilt for even feeling that way because I know every single one of these folks out here has a story that none of us know, what led them to be homeless,” she said. 

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KYW Newsradio's Andrew Kramer and Pat Loeb contributed to this report.