By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  Philadelphia health officials are advocating for safe injection sites to address the opioid epidemic. They’re holding community meetings this month and a conference on Monday featuring international experts.

The city’s opioid epidemic claimed 1,200 lives to overdoses in 2017, and it’s created a new phenomenon of encampments under several railroad bridges in Kensington.

Philadelphia’s been unable to coax the residents into treatment or shelter.

“We help each other, we stick together, if somebody needs something, we pull through,” one man said. “If a buddy of mine or his girlfriend need something, sneakers or clothes, whatever, we’ll make it happen. We just try to stick together as a community.”

He wants to remain anonymous but says he’s 31 and has been living for about six months in the tunnel on Emerald Street, a warren of mattresses, tents, boxes and carts.

“It’s a safe haven,” another man added. “It’s a roof over our head if you look at it.”

The residents’ mutual needs have created an unconventional but strong sense of community, impervious to the pleas of outreach workers, but open to anyone, like this visitor stranded when his phone gave out.

“I mean he didn’t know me from Adam and right away took me in, made sure I had something to eat and drink, sat up with me talking all night,” he said. “It’s definitely not what you would think.”

They agree it’s no way to live permanently but broke and, for the most part, addicted… right now, it’s home.