Residents have long complained that homelessness coupled with open drug use amounts to a serious public health hazard in the densely populated Kensington neighborhood. Health Commissioner Tom Farley reported 1,200 fatal overdoses last year, an increase of 300 over 2016.
Philadelphia moved to clear out two notorious underpass encampments of heroin users in the rundown Kensington district this week after a month-long effort to convince residents to seek treatment or go to shelters, The Guardian reports. Residents have long complained that homelessness coupled with open drug use amounts to a serious public health hazard in the densely populated residential neighborhood. They welcomed the evictions on Wednesday and the removal of tents, mattresses and detritus. The pilot program focused on connecting people to social services so they could lead more stable lives. For four weeks, social workers and police flocked to the bridges and offered help. Before the move, some groups held prayer vigils; others, protesting the city’s action, pointed to posters that read “Eviction=Death”.
“They want to send everybody to rehab, but rehab is only good for people who want to go,” said Jay, 41, who was cooking heroin in preparation for a hit. Tom Farley, Philadelphia health commissioner, said there had been 1,200 fatal overdoses in the city last year, an increase of 300 over 2016, making the city one of the worst-hit in the nation. He said that for each fatal overdose, there were probably eight to 10 non-fatal events. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Philadelphians are addicted to opioids. The encampments “are just one manifestation of the opioid crisis,” Farley said. “Our job is to keep the people alive until they’re ready to go into treatment.” The city’s managing director, Michael DiBerardinis, added that Philadelphia was “committed to fixing the problem. However, it won’t be easy because the opioid crisis is far from over.”