Jasmin Velez, community member and activist
Editor’s note: The responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness. We tried to keep the majority of the points that were made, but some parts did need to be cut or rephrased. Phrases, such as “addicts” and “users”, were changed to “people experiencing addiction” and “people who use drugs” to follow Kensington Voice’s ethics of using person-first language.
Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?
I would just add something in regards to the drug dealing that’s going on in the neighborhood because it’s gotten really bad. As a resident, I’ve gotten threatened for leaving my house or for speaking out. And I work in this community on top of that. So there’s definitely a different perspective that I have on things.
They keep saying that they’re going to bring this new police district, potentially, but I don’t know if policing is the best strategy. My perspective on it is, “Is this really gonna make a difference?” We have hundreds of police here on a daily basis, and none of the stuff that needs to get done gets done anyway. On top of that, we have a predominantly Black and brown community here. So, how do you work with folks who already have mistrust in police and expect things to change? There’s a lot of systemic issues on top of that.
It’s a really sensitive position that Kensington is in; when you consider the amount of drugs in the area, the drug dealing, and the vulnerability of folks here.
Editor’s note: The status of the proposed Kensington Police Special Services District is mentioned in the city’s Restore Kensington Action Plan. You can read more about that here.
Do you agree or disagree with the proposals under the “public safety strategy and expanded access to treatment” section and the “community cleaning and sanitation” section? Thoughts?
Yeah, this is great. A lot of nonprofits are already working with folks to do this kind of work, but I don’t think we should ever say no to more resources when it comes to cleaning and beautification.
I agree that daily trash removal and weekly corridor and street cleaning is a positive thing. We definitely need more lighting around here, especially in certain blocks where it gets really dark and it’s hard to see where you’re going.
I would even add twice-a-week corridor and street cleanings because I’ve done hundreds of cleanups out here, and within 24 hours it’s already a mess. So I think that would be helpful. The daily trash removal — I agree — that should always be done. If you look at Center City, trash is picked up there consistently. Granted, we’re not Center City. But the point is that there are people who live here and they are proud of their neighborhood. Why can’t we have a clean neighborhood as well?
Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?
Housing. It’s getting gentrified out here, and we have to be considerate of the population.
Repair and improvements is a big one. We have a lot of deteriorating buildings in the neighborhood, a lot of abandoned buildings, a lot of vacant buildings. We should be working towards protecting community gardens that have been put in these vacant lots.
What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?
I’m pro-harm reduction; I’m not against it at all. Do I think that we need a safe injection site [also known as an overdose prevention site]? I think that that’s a really complicated and a much more complex question.
There are a lot of different ways we can continue working with folks, like through Prevention Point, which is doing a fantastic job providing certain services. But it’s much more complex than opening a site and not really working with the people who have been living here for generations, who have to deal with the consequences if that does fail or once they can’t handle the number of people who are there. Let’s face it, how many hundreds of people are homeless in the streets right now out here? It’s a lot.
I don’t know if I have the right answer for that or the solution. I’m definitely pro-harm reduction, but we need to be more considerate about what the site is going to be. I don’t necessarily think it belongs here in Kensington. If South Philly can say no, and their excuse is there are families here, why can’t we say the same thing? There are families here too.
Editor’s note: A “safe injection site” is not part of the Restorative Investment Plan for Kensington Residents. Safehouse, the privately-funded nonprofit that is trying to establish an overdose prevention site in Philadelphia is not funded by the city. To read more about Safehouse, click here.
Editors: Claire Wolters, Zari Tarazona, Siani Colón / Designer: Henry Savage