Phila. closes encampments filled by people addicted to heroin
Alexandra Villarreal and Matt Rourke, Associated Press | 5/31/2018, 6:46 a.m.
PHILADELPHIA — Jason Carmine moved to Philadelphia from Delaware when he was offered a job in the landscaping business. But within two weeks, he found himself unemployed with nowhere to go.
He and his father, Kevin, huddled beneath a bridge in Philadelphia, sheltering with other people who, like them, were addicted to heroin. A few days later, the city announced it would clear out two encampments that primarily harbored people affected by the opioid crisis. One of the targeted locations was Carmine's new home.
Social workers visited the bridges as part of a pilot program that tried to connect encampment dwellers to housing and addiction treatment resources before they were forced to leave. The homeless were told to go to shelters in search of beds. But when they arrived, some were turned away for anything more than a shower.
"You go there and they tell you there's no room," Carmine said. "What are we supposed to do? I mean, we're in tents as it is."
Wednesday marked the end of the monthlong pilot that also sought to make Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood safer for residents who felt threatened by the homeless population.
Though officials boasted of success, they acknowledged not everyone who had sheltered under bridges at Kensington Avenue and Tulip Street found refuge before eviction.
Their reason was simple: The city has access to extensive resources to treat people addicted to drugs. But its temporary housing is more limited, and officials were only able to guarantee shelter for 110 people living in the encampments who were verified homeless during the first few weeks of the pilot.
"It's very painful for us to say that we don't have beds for everybody," said Liz Hersh, director of Philadelphia's Office of Homeless Services. She acknowledged that some encampment dwellers will likely move to other nearby outdoor hubs for homelessness.
Still, Hersh is proud of the program, which matched more than a hundred people with services and funneled nearly four dozen into treatment.
"When we offer what people need and want, they take advantage of the opportunity," she said.
Philadelphia has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said there were 1,200 fatal overdoses in the city last year — with encampments as a breeding ground — and estimated between 50,000-70,000 residents are addicted to opioids.
"We are committed to fixing the problem. However, it' won't be easy because the opioid crisis is far from over," said Michael DiBerardinis, the city's managing director.
The pilot focused on connecting encampment dwellers to services so they could recover from their addictions, lead a more stable life and possibly even find employment. For four weeks, social workers and police flocked to the bridges and offered help.
But by the end of May, time was up. The encampments had to be vacated.
Residents packed up their belongings as sanitation workers threw mattresses, tents, tables and other debris into garbage trucks.
Carmine said he will check into rehabilitation Monday for a 30-day inpatient program. He has unsuccessfully tried to persuade his father to go with him.
"I'm lost, you know what I mean?" Carmine said. "No other options. Now I got to go with the flow and hope for the best." -- (AP)