PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The City of Philadelphia announced that it will postpone plans to close the homeless encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway because conversations with the group are ongoing. Mayor Jim Kenney says he plans to meet with several camp representatives next week.
“I really want to continue to try to take a personal approach so this ends in an amicable way as possible and the people get the services that they need,” Kenney said.
Kenney will be meeting privately with camp organizers hoping to place the 100-150 people there into shelters and safe housing. He admits the encampment cannot remain at that location indefinitely.
“What’s there now is unsafe, it’s unsanitary and it’s a possible hotspot, we don’t know yet, for the virus. In addition, there’s been some violence there, some stabbings so it’s getting to the point where it’s devolving into a real concern,” Kenney said. “We really do want to address the issues that they’re raising, at the same time keep people safe and healthy. And at some point, the encampment is not sustainable indefinitely.”
About a dozen tents have now popped up in the Azalea Garden behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“I wish the city would come up with a longterm solution,” Fairmount resident Doug Gordon said.
Neighbors exercising along the popular trails in the area first noticed the tents earlier this week.
“We’ve even seen little kids out here with their mom and dad,” Cassandra Woods said. “It breaks your heart. They all need somewhere to live. They need help and that’s the sad part.”
The demands are similar to those of the main encampment that formed more than a month ago at 22nd Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“Housing and health care are basic human rights and the denial of these basic rights by the city entities to its most vulnerable residents is a continuation of systemic oppression that affects poor and marginalized populations,” one encampment member said.
Members of the encampment want better treatment of homeless people and permanent, low-income housing.
Many people CBS3 spoke with say the requests are reasonable.
“There’s so many vacant houses in the City of Philadelphia,” Kathy Irons said. “Why can’t the city do something for people who don’t have a place to live.”
The city says public health and safety are behind its decision and deadline. There’s no deadline at this point for the encampment to disband.
“We’re not looking to use force in any situation,” Kenney said, “but at some point in time, the government has a responsibility to make things safe and to make things hygienic.”
In a statement, a city spokesperson said, “Conversations between the city and the group are ongoing and we’re still hoping to reach a reasonable outcome. The city continues to make every effort to assist homeless individuals who are at the camp to connect to services and leave voluntarily.”
City officials say outreach teams have placed at least 17 people into safe havens, recovery housing and shelters, but they say there are still roadblocks on social service workers who aren’t.
The tents in the Azalea Garden are part of the Parkway homeless encampment. Some of their demands are taped to the trees.
CBS3’s Jan Carabeo and Natasha Brown contributed to this report.