By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia city officials are developing a team of police and outreach workers to resolve a new problem related to the opioid epidemic, encampments of people living in tunnels in Kensington.

City officials disclosed the problem, Monday, at a city council committee hearing.

Homeless Services director Liz Hersh testified that there are encampments of anywhere from 12 to several dozen people living in four tunnels just North of Lehigh Avenue, drug users who’ve been unwilling to go into treatment or shelter.

Hersh says the city is meeting with community groups now to vet its proposed solution but in the meantime, has taken small steps to address the problems the encampment creates, but called the encampments “a humanitarian crisis.”

“[The encampment] presents a health and safety threat not only to the people living there but to the neighbors who live near by, she said.

They began to spring up in warm weather cities a decade ago, but only developed here in the last several months. The homeless have been found in four tunnels between Tulip and Kensington Avenues.

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Hersh says the city is looking at model piloted in San Francisco, which had 1,000 people in encampments and was able to reduce that number by 85 percent. She says Philadelphia police have created a homeless detail.

“They do a nightly count of people sleeping, weekly clean-ups and have a constant presence in the community,” she said.

The city has also distributed kits to neighbors that include no trespassing signs and tools to safely clean up used needles. Officials say they have also closed down a scrap metal collector, a common source of income for drug use.

“While it is progress, it’s far from the resolution that’s needed,” Hersh adds.

She says the city will begin, this week, presenting its Encampment Resolution plan to neighbors.


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