Kensington reacts to Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s restorative investment plan

Kensington residents and business owners are used to confronting several crises at once.

Throughout 2020 alone, the neighborhood has dealt not only with the global coronavirus pandemic, but with an ongoing overdose crisis, people experiencing chronic homelessness, and a widespread lack of economic investment in the community.

In June, City Council adopted Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s resolution that authorizes the Committee on Public Health and Human Services to continue hearings that evaluate the city’s efforts related to the overdose crisis and the councilmember’s proposed Restorative Investment Plan for Kensington Residents, which addresses the continued impact of the economic, social and health crises in the neighborhood.

>>You can read and download the Councilmember’s Restorative Investment Plan here.

In order to better understand what Kensington needs and to help guide local leaders, we asked community members a set of questions about the Restorative Investment Plan. This first round of responses includes nine interviews that were conducted in the past month over the phone or in-person, including a Harrowgate Civic Association protest on July 8 at Kensington and Allegheny avenues.

After the Harrowgate Civic Association protest in Kensington captured the attention of soon-to-be former Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy, the city committed to sharing their plan to implement the councilmember’s Restorative Investment Plan — as financially possible — by July 27.

You can read more about the city’s Restore Kensington Action Plan, which the city shared with Kensington Voice on July 28, here. The plan also includes more information about the status of the proposed police district in Kensington.

If you would like to participate in future community responses, send us an email at editors@kensingtonvoice.com.

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.

As part of our Community Listening Post series, community members respond to a set of questions about an issue affecting Kensington and the surrounding areas. This month’s topic is about Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s Restorative Investment Plan for Kensington residents. You can read more about the plan here.  

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.

Jasmin Velez, Community member & activist

Jasmin Velez attended a protest organized by the Harrowgate Civic Association on July 8 at the intersection of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

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.

Brooke Feldman, Angels in Motion board member

Brooke Feldman at a neighborhood protest on July 8, 2020. (Photo by Claire Wolters)

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

As someone who doesn’t live in the community — I work in the community — I can’t answer that fully. For folks who live here, that’s for them to say if this meets their needs or doesn’t.

As someone who works in addiction treatment, who’s a harm reduction and recovery advocate, and who cares about people experiencing homelessness, I definitely want to see more elaboration on what reforming the treatment system looks like and how to respond to people who don’t want the services you’re offering. 

I understand that the solution can’t be for things to stay the same. Some of the proposals I’ve heard over the years, like “lock everybody up” or “involuntarily commit people to treatment,” are very problematic and cross over into injustice issues. But it’s also an injustice for it to just remain the same. 

There needs to be stakeholders who are part of the process of figuring out: “What does it look like to reform our treatment system so it works for people?,” “What does it look like to reform our housing system so it works for people?,” “What does it look like if somebody says, ‘I don’t want any of that?,’” and “How do we have alternatives to just locking people up?”

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?

I agree with all the community revitalization and investment efforts — everything from community cleaning and sanitation and initiatives to addressing safety and the needs of children. I support it 100%. I’ll show up for anything the community needs to make these things happen. 

When it comes to creating a police district solely for Kensington, I struggle with that. We’re so used to looking for a law enforcement or carceral response to problems. And so, are police officers the best people to engage someone who’s living with mental health challenges, or substance use challenges, or homelessness? My position is no. I don’t think the police officers are the best folks to do that. People who have passion, experience, and strengths in that work are who we really need. I would love to think through other options besides just turning to law enforcement — because there’s only a couple tools law enforcement has and those often involve handcuffing people.

Follow-up question: What are some professions that might be better equipped?

As far as professions, social workers, bringing counseling services to people, rather than making people go to some building to receive them. People don’t need to be inside of a building to build a therapeutic relationship. We should be bringing services to people; whether it’s therapists or psychiatrists. 

The most effective person is often someone who has lived through an experience or has been very close to it. So, we should bring in people who have experienced addiction and homelessness — but have found a way out — to engage people who are currently there. Investing heavily in that and supporting those folks is another alternative. 

It is also important to engage non-traditional stakeholders, like faith-based groups and family members who have been through this and want to give back. There are professionals but there are also people who are advocates or activists or just have lived experience and need to be engaged.

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

I would defer that to community members. What might be my priority as somebody who works here will be different than somebody who lives here. 

One thing I’ve heard loud and clear is that we really need to consider the impact that the conditions in Kensington are having on our next generation. And I’ve often said things like, “The most vulnerable person is the person who’s struggling with addiction and homelessness.” I’ve been gently corrected that the most vulnerable human beings in all of this are the children who are growing up and having to watch where they go out of fear of being shot or seeing people who have overdosed and are essentially dead on the street. We need to look at what we’re doing to ensure that we don’t have a whole generation who’ve grown up in trauma and are only going to go on to struggle as adults.

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

It’s clear that law enforcement is strained in this area. And it’s complicated. There are many levels to why law enforcement is not effective in addressing the challenges. I work in the 19134 zip code, and I’ve been told if you call 911, don’t expect a quick response time … for non-emergency. So that’s not okay to have response times that are so long. I mean, I’ve had a couple of instances where the problem resolved itself before the police game. We try not to call the police unless we absolutely have to. 

I get the idea of not wanting to have overtaxed law enforcement officials. I struggle with turning to law enforcement as the answer. Because how things got to where they are is so complex and nuanced, and there are all kinds of racial and economic justice issues. There is the reality that the unregulated drug market is a substantial part of the economy in this community. 

I have the privilege of not living here and not having to worry about my child being exposed to this stuff, but I struggle with going right to a law enforcement response.

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.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

More than I can cover in this conversation. What I hope is that the councilmember and other people who are involved in talking about what this plan looks like, will bring those of us who know the system, intimately, to the table. 

And then like, really concretely, I come through here every single day. I have never seen services brought to people other than, like homeless outreach services. And like I said earlier, there’s no reason why Community Behavioral Health [a nonprofit corporation contracted by the City of Philadelphia that manages the delivery of behavioral health services to Medicaid recipients] can’t come out here and skip the whole assessment process and get people into treatment. There’s no reason why there can’t be like street medicine workers, essentially. Clinicians that are able to come out here and build a therapeutic alliance with people. We need to stop expecting people to go into these places and instead go to where people are, and meet them where they’re at with what we’re offering.

Our behavioral health system here in Philadelphia needs to be totally reformed. If we had the leadership we see in the district attorney’s office, in the behavioral health system then we’d start to see real progress rather than Band-Aid solutions. 

We have a system that only caters to people who are ready to commit to total abstinence. That’s overwhelming for a lot of people and may not be what they want. They might say, “I want to stop injecting fentanyl, but I’m not ready to quit smoking cigarettes,” or “I’m not ready to stop smoking weed.” We don’t have anywhere for those folks [who aren’t committing to total abstinence] to go or they get told to go to outpatient treatment. But if you’re experiencing homelessness, have no social support, no transportation, getting to a clinic three times a week for outpatient treatment is not going to work.

Darlene Abner-Burton, Community member and activist

Darlene Abner-Burton, a Kensington resident attends a demonstration planned by the Harrowgate Civic Association near Kensington and Allegheny Avenue on July 8, 2020. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

Community involvement is missing from the plan. You have to involve the community that you’re serving. You can’t draw up plans. You have to have community input at all times because we meet here. This is our neighborhood. When I say, “Whose streets? Our streets,” I mean that these are our streets, and we need help from the city. But the city can’t do it by themselves. The community also has to help and do a part.

Follow-up question: What are some possible solutions to incorporating the community’s involvement?

More meetings with the community. Let the community know that you’re not just sitting up in an office somewhere and making decisions for us. Come out and talk to us. Come out and get involved. This is a situation that has been brewing for years. This neighborhood didn’t just get like this. It’s been deteriorating for years, and we’ve been asking for help for years. We need policymakers to involve us in their decisions because it directly affects us.

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?

Yes, absolutely agree. People in addiction need help, but at the end of the day, access to resources changes when the skin color of the people affected changes. I’m going to be honest with you. When there was a widespread use of crack in the ‘80s, it was called a war on drugs because it was the Black community. Now, this heroin affects the Caucasian community and that’s why [the police] are relaxed about getting help down here. I hate to say it is racism, but it is a form of racism because they did everything they could to bring the Black man down and the Black woman down when they were smoking crack. 

Editor’s note: According to Health in Justice Action Lab’s Changing the Narrative Initiative, national overdose death rates aren’t the highest among whites out of all ethnic groups, and national overdose rates have recently been rising more rapidly among Black and Hispanic people. According to a July 2020 report from the City of Philadelphia, white, non-Hispanic people represent the largest race/ethnic group dying from unintentional opioid-related deaths in the city. Black, non-Hispanic people are the second largest race/ethnic group, and Hispanic people are the third largest group.   

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

Cameras should be at the top of the list. Lighting and repairs and improvements help. Because if you turn the lights on, the roaches scatter. So, if you shine a light on what’s going on, showing all aspects of it, how the neighborhood has deteriorated. 

We need help. We really, really do. And I’ve got grandkids that can’t even come down here because of this neighborhood. It hurts because their parents fear for their safety. It’s not fair. So, yes, I would definitely put the public cameras at the top of the list, but I need them to monitor the cameras and know what’s going on.

If you bring a community up and beautify it, it will turn out better. But the neighbors also need to take pride in where they live. Take pride in your community, and come out and sweep in front of a house. We can’t expect the city to do everything. It’s not fair.

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

We used to respect the police. These kids don’t fear the police. Policing has to be done with respect because a person who respects you will listen to you. A person who is scared of you will hurt you. Force and over-policing is not the answer. [Police] need to get out of their cars, start walking, get to know the people in the community and build a relationship with them. Then when something does go down, the community knows who they can trust and who has their backs.

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.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

Treatment. Not facilitating their use of drugs. Drugs are bad. We all know that drug use destroys lives and destroys families. It takes family members out of the home. Drugs are bad. Nothing  good has ever come from drugs. We need to get people the help that they need. Even if [treatment] doesn’t reach every person, even if it’s just one less person. They’re suffering too. They need treatment. I’m all for treatment.

But I don’t think we should put a shooting gallery [referencing the proposed overdose prevention site] in our neighborhood next to a daycare. I don’t think that’s the answer.

Editor’s note: The proposed overdose prevention site would be a closed facility out of sight from the public. Currently, there isn’t a planned location for the facility in Kensington or next to a daycare.

Follow-up question: Do you believe that overdose prevention sites should not be considered at all or is there a different way to go about handling them?

Drugs are illegal in this country, so any pacifier given to those who use drugs is not right. So, no, I’m not for letting people “legally” shoot up in my neighborhood or any other neighborhood. 

People using drugs should be herded into treatment. They don’t need somebody to say, “Oh, if you overdose we’re gonna help you.” They need somebody to say “Listen, we know a place where you can get help.” These people are dying. I’m not ignorant to the plight of [people experiencing addiction] because they are suffering.

Luis Acosta, Community member and local artist

Luis Acosta, a Kensington resident and local artist, at a demonstration planned by the Harrowgate Civic Association near Kensington and Allegheny Avenue on July 8, 2020. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

When you look at it, it looks very positive on paper. But problems in the area have existed for a few years now and it’s the worst it’s ever been. So you have to ask yourself, what is it that they’re actually doing? And will that plan actually work?

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?

I’ll comment on one that’s really clear: Reclaiming the intersection from an open-air drug market. Right now, what that means is that, as a local or as a visitor, you would have the notion or belief that there is some type of drug exchange going on. In reality, you see people injecting. You see people getting high on the street. You see drug trades happening, and police officers are taking zero steps. 

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

I would prioritize safety in the corridor. There’s people who are deliberately choosing not to come because they don’t feel safe. How can they promote safety in the corridor? That’s for them to figure out. But, what they’re doing is not working right now.

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

No comment.

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.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

I’m not an expert in this area, but some people whom I know closely are connected to people who have gone through recovery. The first step is to establish some form of stability for them and some type of home. The streets shouldn’t be their home. And that’s the issue. We have to be able to find a place where they have a home right now.

Zaire Best, protestor at July’s K&A demonstration

Zaire Best at a protest in Kensington on July 8, 2020, where he and his drum line performed for the crowd. (Photo by Claire Wolters)

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

Editor’s note: Zaire wasn’t familiar enough with the plan to answer this question at the time of the interview. 

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?

Yes. I love this: Reclaim intersections with open-air drug markets. Intersections with open-air drug markets are where all these drugs are coming from and that’s a huge problem. These communities didn’t start off like this back in the day; this had to stem from somewhere. Try to figure out exactly where these things are coming from so that you can tackle the problem from the root.

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

Partnering with community organizations to complete minor repairs, like windows. When you walk all the way up from Allegheny Avenue straight to Girard Avenue — well, I mean, Girard is pretty much gentrified now — you see broken homes and [people experiencing homelessness] on the street. That creates another problem: Where are they gonna turn to? They’re gonna turn to the street, drugs. 

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

I disagree with that whole heartedly. I just got off the station at Somerset, and I literally saw four police officers just watching some people injecting; [the police] didn’t do anything. I’m a born and raised resident from Southwest Philadelphia. I’ve seen that all my life, growing up in the projects. So, what are they really doing here? They’re not even trying to help or address the problem. So, what are they doing? 

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.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

I’m not sure the word for it, but a specialized person who helps people deal with addiction. Someone who studied this, went to school for this or is passionate about helping people get back on their feet when they’re overcome with addiction. I think that’s what needs to be in our community resources at the moment.

Sonja Bingham, Kensington resident

Sonja Bingham at a protest in Kensington on July 8, 2020. (Photo by Claire Wolters)

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

Editor’s note: Sonja wasn’t familiar enough with the plan to answer this question at the time of the interview.

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?

The corridors need to be better cleaned. This would never be acceptable near my house, which is near Martha’s restaurant. Near my house, if people were walking their dogs without poop bags, I’d say, “You got one in your pocket?” This is not okay. It’s not okay for the people who have to live in it, and it’s definitely not okay for those of us who are stakeholders in the community to have to tell our kids this is okay. My kids are grown, but I get up every morning and I clean that block because I don’t want to see my babies walk through that. That should not be their conditioning experience.

Street sweepers cleaned my stoop today [Wednesday, July 8]. It was the most amazing, wonderful, and uplifting experience. That should be routine. It’s not a lot to ask and it’s relatively clean. But, it’s because we had the press conference last week and now we have the protest today. So what happens after?

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

Safe corridors and more police presence; for the police to engage with our young people. That community effort needs to involve all the generations. The kids in this neighborhood need to see that. 

The narrative is that cops want to kill Black people. That’s the narrative. So when they see [police] picking up trash or playing on the basketball court, it changes the narrative. It should be mandatory that police officers donate two hours of community service to their districts. Two hours. How many cops are in a district? Do you know what two hours would do? Do you know how impactful that would be?

I am not a native of Philadelphia. I was one of three Black families in my town in New York. So, my experience and the way I was brought up is just different. But living on the other side and then coming here to this side, the same rules still apply. If we see police officers and the mayor as our friends, and they think that we are worth them coming out to our neighborhood and picking up our trash, that’s gonna be something. 

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

There needs to be more police presence in main hubs. Kensington and Allegheny avenues should be a hub. It should be a wonderful place for businesses, for restaurants, for people to get off SEPTA’s Allegheny Station and pick up dinner for their kids before they go home into the neighborhood. 

We need a heavier police presence and more engagement with the community. Have them come play basketball. If the kids see the District Attorney’s Office, and the police officers, and the powers that be out there investing and contributing to their neighborhood, that’s gonna make them feel special, like they have value. Those are things that I personally — without getting into Black Lives Matter and all of the obvious issues of late — think are very impactful. 

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.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

No comment.

Alfred Klosterman, Harrowgate resident and Harrowgate Civic Association member

Alfred Klosterman in front of the now closed Little Lou’s Tavern on Kensington Avenue on July 21, 2020. Klosterman is a Harrowgate resident and a member of the Harrowgate Civic Association.

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

It pretty much encapsules everything that I see. There’s a lot of disparate items that really do tie together, which people on the outside [of Kensington] may not realize. 

The city needs to tie together everything from alley cleaning and lighting to increased trash pickup. These might not seem important on a scale of things, but we have hundreds of people living on sidewalks. Those hundreds of people generally steal from backyards and alleys to supply their drug intake every day. So things like sanitary and cleaning and all are part of the drug problem.

But this plan does seem to tie a lot of things together. It doesn’t really force things to happen, which some of us would prefer, but at least puts it all together in a way that people can take action.

The plan could include a little more enforcement, but I don’t know if that’s even legally possible. We have a chicken and egg situation; are the [people who deal drugs] here because of [people using drugs] or vice versa? But one thing we have to do is get both of them out of here and into treatment for [people using drugs] and some kind of punitive situation [people dealing drugs] if they can’t turn their lives around. But I know there are civil liberties issues regarding taking people off the street. So, how do you really mandate putting these people into the proper facilities?

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?

I totally agree with the three bullet points under public safety and that everything really seems to stem from the drug problem on our streets. That has to be focused on — item one. Whether it’s getting them into treatment or housing. My street has been an open-air heroin market for some years now and it is a living hell to live in that kind of situation.

As for community cleaning and sanitation, someone not living here would say, “Daily trash removal? What in the world.” But when you have hundreds of people living in public on the streets, the trash that’s generated is incredible. Something has to be done. People can try to take care of their own sidewalk but even that’s a full time job. We need more cleaning, more trash receptacles, everything like that.

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

Blighted properties are pretty high on my list. On my block, we always have at least one, sometimes several, empty houses, which immediately become drug squats. The [people who deal drugs] move in, and I have seen some horrible things from the drug houses on my block where [people] overdose. [People] just drag the bodies out and lay them on the sidewalk until somebody comes to take them. I mean, it’s horrible. A vacant house is just trouble.

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

Totally agree. At the Harrowgate Civic Association meeting in February, we were pretty much told that was a “go” on that and then that was the last we heard. Now, whether it’s a victim of the virus, pandemic funding, or whatever, it seems to have died now. We were told they would have 80 new officers. They wouldn’t take them from the 24th police district. They would have new officers, so we’d actually come out with more police in the area. 

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.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

There has to be treatment, plain and simple. Find a facility to put the people in and give them the care they need. Nobody in this area hates the [people who use drugs]. Everybody knows [people who used drugs] who have died or [people experiencing addiction] now, and we want to see them have treatment. Right now, we have a situation that’s just not sustainable for any party. 

One problem that keeps coming up — and Councilmember Quiñones-Sánchez brings this up every time she can — is Community Behavioral Health [a nonprofit corporation contracted by the City of Philadelphia that manages the delivery of behavioral health services to Medicaid recipients]. The behavioral health people insist that when [people who use drugs] are put into treatment centers, they have to quit cigarettes at the same time. That’s a deal breaker for a lot of people, which you can imagine. It’s a bridge too far for a lot of people, so they walk out.

Shelly Donohue, Kensington resident

Shelly Donohue, a Kensington resident, stands on the corners of Frankford and Allegheny Avenues on July 31, 2020.

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

I feel that there’s a lot missing. I feel our businesses are being taken away. Kensington Avenue is basically shut down. My son can’t even get his medicine at Walgreens. The community is just in an outrage over everything. 

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?

I definitely approve of it. I do think that once they get [people experiencing addiction] into treatment, they need to put them in some sort of housing. That will give them the chance to see the proper way of living and maybe give them that chance to get off the streets. 

I have 15 years clean and sober so I know what that’s like. I was never out there like that. But I feel the pain and the hopelessness when I have to walk through my neighborhood, and we shouldn’t have to feel that. And if I’m an adult feeling that, I can only imagine what our youth is going through.

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

I agree with all of it. That is a great initiative. For the abandoned homes, the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) would come out. They would put boards up and all around and then the boards would be taken down the next day. Next thing you know, the house is catching fire. 

I am very much for new lighting. They just put a new LED light outside of my street on Frankford Avenue. I love it because at night sometimes I even think it’s morning still because it’s bright. But I have neighbors that have been calling the [councilmembers]. The block captain, she’s been calling everybody and trying to get the trash removed, the lots secured, the businesses brought back together, the cleaning of the streets, everything. What I think is most important is getting these abandoned homes fixed up the right way and not just putting wooden gates around for people to hop over. 

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

I sure do. They should have one running all the way from Huntingdon Street, maybe even from York and Dauphin streets, all the way down to Tioga Street. I am totally in favor of that. And I also believe that, if cops were stationed in their own district, they would know the neighborhood. They’d know the neighbors. So they’d know who’s selling drugs. They’d know who’s the boss. They would know where to go. I’m more for the Police Service Area.

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.

Editor’s note: According to the Philadelphia Police Department, police officers aren’t assigned to patrol in districts where they live as a matter of longstanding practice. But, that shouldn’t obstruct their ability to provide quality and dedicated service to the communities they’re assigned.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

People experiencing addiction need more long-term care; 30 days is not enough. You’re just realizing who you are in 30 days and now you got to take care of your mental illness if that was a part before you started using drugs. And now 90% of the people out there have a mental illness and that’s why they use but don’t realize that. 

I think [people] should get a little more long-term care and help for at least three to six months and then get sent to a housing program where they monitor you and teach you how to be a productive member of society.

Stephanie Martinez, Community member

Stephanie Martinez, a Kensington resident, poses near a community garden on Hart Lane street on July 29, 2020. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

Does the proposed Kensington Investment Plan represent the community’s current needs or priorities? Is there anything missing?

It does and it doesn’t. It doesn’t have actionable steps, in my opinion. It’s pretty general. 

It’s good that we want to provide treatment for those who have substance abuse issues. And it’s just like, well, what happens to those who are not ready? Little things like that. It’s just like, okay, that’s great for those who are ready, but what do we do with the ones who are not?

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?

For the first section, I agree with it, but it’s vague. 

As far as the police district, I don’t really see anything that mentions the district attorney. I don’t see how a new police district within Kensington can truly work if we don’t have that partnership with the district attorney. So I don’t see that really working. 

Being here, just at the heart of it on a day to day basis, we do see police activity and they do drive by. But, literally the minute that they’re gone, the drug activity continues. So it’s really just holding them accountable as far as the [people who deal drugs] and [people who use drugs]. In order to do so, we’ve talked to police officers who say, “Well, we can’t arrest them. We can’t really do anything.” So, it’s kind of counterintuitive to have the police there if they can’t do anything. 

I don’t agree with the second section, community cleaning and sanitation at all. It’s not just trash that we’re dealing with. You’re talking about biohazardous waste, like syringes and human waste. At the end of the day, [residents] don’t have that training to be able to handle those things. Before COVID-19, we were dealing with Hepatitis A. So, it’s too much to put on the residents.

And I don’t agree with the 4-yard dumpsters. Having dumpsters within the community and allowing us to put large trash cans in front of our houses allows people to do illegal dumping. And it’ll just create more rodent infestation. 

The plan should be to hire a third party vendor or third party company to come out one to two times a week, in addition to our trash pickups, and holding the property owners accountable. 

Under the “restorative community investment for safety and quality of life” section, which issues do you feel should receive priority funding?

The vacant and blighted property, in my opinion, should receive priority funding first. Then repairs and improvements for homeowners or just housing in general.

Do you agree or disagree that adding a fully-staffed police district or Police Service Area (PSA) will help police officers respond to underserved parts of Kensington?

I think it will. On Frankford Avenue and Somerset Street, let’s say two and a half weeks ago, if you were to drive by you would see a lot of drug activity, both [people who use drugs] and [people who deal drugs]. Now, this would be the second week. The owner or the property manager decided to hire an outside company of armed security guards or armed officers. They’re armed. And, because they’ve been in place, you don’t see one [person who uses drugs] hanging out there or one [person who deals drugs.] 

If we were to have our own police district, it would work if they were to patrol the area and the neighborhood and, again, if they’re able to actually do something. 

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.

What should be a part of the city’s treatment options to aid people experiencing addiction?

I don’t know if this is part of it, but I would definitely say no to safe injection sites [also known as overdose prevention sites]. I personally worked with a gentleman [experiencing addiction], once upon a time. And I think really it’s just based on the person. If they want help, they will get that help. But we should make resources available to them on a consistent basis — kind of pushing resources in their faces where it’s like, if you need help, we’re here. 

Honestly, I don’t know what really truly goes into the treatment options. I’ve just never really looked into it. But I think just them knowing that there are options and there is help, really just would make a difference to them. 

The city should also invest in helping residents install their own security cameras, getting those security cameras linked to the police department, and installing signs throughout the neighborhood that state that there are security cameras linked to the police department.

And then utilizing the empty lots that we have within the neighborhood. I’ve tried myself to acquire an empty lot that’s owned by the Philadelphia Land Bank, and they make you go through hoops. I think it should have priority for residents so that we can have community gardens and safe spaces for the kids.

Another thing that’s very important is holding property owners who abandoned their property accountable. 

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, Henry Savage / Designer: Henry Savage

What did you think about this story? Send a note to editors@kensingtonvoice.com, and we’ll consider publishing it in our Voices section. You can also tell us what you think in person at our neighborhood events.

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