Philadelphia’s Managing Director’s Office releases a partially-funded action plan for Kensington

Dozens of people attended the protest hosted by the Harrowgate Civic Association on July 8, 2020 at the intersection of Kensington and Allegheny avenues. Protesters displayed a variety of perspectives, and most called out city leadership for a “failure to fill previous promises made to the neighborhood.” (Photo by Erin Blewett)

After a neighborhood protest where community members demanded that the city restore Kensington and Harrowgate, Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy promised to implement Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s Restorative Investment Plan for Kensington Residents, where financially possible. 

The city’s Restore Kensington Action Plan, which was shared with Kensington Voice on July 28, echoes most of the councilmember’s plan. The city’s action plan is broken up into four goals with 15 action items: connect individuals to services, increase access to housing, increase public safety, and increase quality of life. The councilmember’s plan has three sections with 16 action items: public safety strategy and expanded access to treatment, community cleaning and sanitation, and restorative community investment for safety and quality of life. 

The difference between the two plans is implementation. Currently, six of the city’s action items need funding to be put into action while the rest of the plan moves forward (You can find a list of the funded and unfunded items at the end of this story). And Quiñones-Sánchez believes those investments should be made now.

You can read and download the city’s Restore Kensington Action Plan here.

“Again I call on Mayor Kenney to provide needed leadership in this critical moment.” Quiñones-Sánchez wrote in a press release on July 28. “Doing almost nothing, which is what this response is, is no longer acceptable.”

Public safety and quality of life concerns ranging from community gun violence to the overdose crisis have been building up in the Kensington-area for years. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the existing crises in the neighborhood while limiting the city’s budget to address those issues. Now, community members and politicians are demanding more action from the Kenney administration.

On June 25, City Council adopted a resolution by Quiñones-Sánchez authorizing the Committee on Public Health and Human Services to continue previously-held hearings that evaluate the city’s efforts related to the overdose crisis and called for hearings and the implementation of the councilmember’s Restorative Investment Plan.

You can read and download Councilmember Quiñones-Sánchez’s entire plan here.

To bring more attention to the Restorative Investment Plan, the councilmember held a press conference in front of Esperanza Health Center at the intersection of Kensington and Allegheny avenues on June 30. The Harrowgate Civic Association organized a protest on July 8, at the same intersection, and urged city leaders to fulfill past promises and improve the quality of life for residents. The demonstration, which caught the attention of city leaders like Abernathy, led to the creation of the Restore Kensington Action Plan.  

Dozens of people attended the protest hosted by the Harrowgate Civic Association on July 8, 2020 at the intersection of Kensington and Allegheny avenues. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

The city’s budget crisis limits the action plan

The Managing Director’s Office held multiple meetings across city government to develop the action plan, Opioid Response Unit Director Noëlle Foizen wrote in an email to Kensington Voice. 

The Managing Director’s Office established the Opioid Response Unit in the fall of 2019 to focus on collaborating with communities and mobilizing opioid use disorder treatment and prevention resources across city departments. The response unit originated from the Philadelphia Resilience Project, a group of 35 city agencies that served as an emergency response team to the overdose crisis in Kensington and the surrounding area until December 2019. 

Moving forward, the Managing Director’s Office will hold monthly meetings to discuss the Restore Kensington Action Plan with stakeholders from Kensington and the surrounding area, including civic leaders, community based organizations, community development corporations, and service providers, Foizen said. Participants can provide feedback and help determine operational details.

Because of COVID-19 related budget limitations, the city’s plan prioritizes initiatives that are able to be funded and implemented from August to December 2020, Foizen said. The six action items that need more funding and operational resources have preliminary timelines and target dates.

“There are some initiatives we included that still require significant budget resources, but we wanted to document them as a priority as we continue to advocate for their funding,” Foizen said. “Funding any of the initiatives that do not already have budget resources allocated would require tradeoffs with other parts of the budget.”

Councilmember Maria Quinones at a press conference she held that addresses the proposed restorative plan for Kensington outside of Esperanza Health Center on June 30, 2020. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

However, as chair of the Committee on Appropriations, Quiñones-Sánchez plans to use her role to “challenge the notion that the needs of Kensington cannot be addressed within the current budget challenges and with our CARES federal and state allocations.”

“Kensington cannot afford further mismanagement as the public health and safety crisis continues to worsen,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “The choice to pay later — overtime to continue in our unsuccessful reactionary posture — rather than investing now is yet another mistake.”

In response to Quiñones-Sánchez, Foizen said the city welcomes the councilmember’s support as chair to help identify and allocate money for the unfunded action items, but the federal money provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act can only be used for the city’s pandemic response.

The city included the plan’s six unfunded initiatives to demonstrate its “commitment to the Kensington community,” but there will need to be further budget negotiations before these restorative investments can happen, Foizen said.

Community members and city workers clean up Kensington on June 2, 2020 after a night of looting following peaceful protests against the murder of George Floyd by police officers. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

What is in the plan?

Below is a list of the funded and unfunded items proposed in the action plan in addition to clarifications from Foizen.

Action Plan Goal 1: Increase quality of life

  • Implement coordinated quality of life initiative: Three-week interagency response to address blight, hotspots, dumping, abandoned vehicles, and nuisance businesses. The area for the initiative hasn’t been finalized, but the boundaries will most likely be similar to the Resilience Project, Foizen said. This initiative is funded and scheduled for Monday through Friday from Aug. 10 to 28.
  • Once-a-week service days focused on cleaning and sanitation led by the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), the Office of Homeless Services, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Philadelphia Streets Department. The locations are based on reports from community members, homeless outreach, the police department’s East Service Detail, which is a trained unit within the department’s East Division that responds to quality of life calls to engage and offer services to people experiencing homelessness and people with substance use disorders, Foizen said. These efforts are funded and scheduled to start the week of August 31.
  • Deter illegal dumping: Post no dumping signs with listed fees, cameras, and LED lighting at problem locations. The signs are scheduled to go up on Sept. 11, but the cameras and LED lighting need funding to happen. 
  • Expand PhilaCan pilot program: Provide trash receptacles for 15 blocks on Allegheny Avenue from Rosehill Street to Kensington Avenue. This action item needs funding, but the target date is Oct. 5
  • Community dumpsters pilot: Place at community identified locations with ambassadors to monitor and alert the Streets Department for collection. This action item needs funding, but the target date is Oct. 5.
  • Expand Same Day Pay: Accessible work opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and people who lost their job due to COVID-19 and are now experiencing financial instability. This community beautification work is funded and happening four days a week at McPherson Square until the end of August. The goal is to add additional teams, Foizen said.
  • Scope securing playgrounds: Partner with civic groups to identify playgrounds that need securing with fences, gates, and signs. This action item needs funding, but the Opioid Response Unit will start planning this work with civic groups in August.

Action Plan Goal 2: Increase public safety

  • Assess Kensington Police Special Services District: The original proposal was a new police district and that option is still on the table but part of the larger conversation regarding police reform and prioritizing resources, Foizen said. The district would focus on Somerset Street to Allegheny Avenue to D Street to Frankford Avenue. We are still assessing this initiative in coordination with police, criminal justice, and behavioral health partners, Foizen added. This action item would need funding.
  • Reboot Safe Corridors Program: Identify and train volunteers to monitor and enforce safe corridors along school routes Monday through Friday during the 2020-2021 school year. The timeline for this is based on the School District of Philadelphia’s final reopening plan.
  • Expand Police Assisted Diversion (PAD) and Co-Responders to the 25th and 26th police districts. This expansion is funded and scheduled for September 2020, and Co-Responders will have a second shift between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday to Friday.
  • Reimagine The Living Room model: Assess and reimagine The Living Room model, which creates an alternative to emergency room visits during mental health crises, based on guidance from the District Attorney’s Office, the police department and behavioral health and criminal justice partners. The planning meetings are ongoing; funding isn’t mentioned in the plan.

Action Plan Goal 3: Connect individuals to services

  • Expand summer strategy: The strategy brings an interdisciplinary targeted response to people experiencing homelessness and people with substance use disorders by going to them and offering resources like services, treatment, and shelter. This strategy is currently operating out of the PAD headquarters at Allegheny Avenue and F Street on Tuesdays. Funding is available, so the plan is to expand to two days a week in August.

Action Plan Goal 4: Increase Access to housing

  • Assess a drop-in center in Kensington: Add a permanent location for One Day At A Time, an addiction recovery services provider, in Kensington to provide personal hygiene services and access to housing and treatment resources. This action item needs funding, but there is currently a drop-in center in the neighborhood because of COVID-19.
  • Target the city’s basic repair program: Provide homeowners with free repairs, such as electrical, plumbing, heating, structural and roofing emergencies, through the city’s Basic Systems Repair Program. Due to COVID-19, applications will resume once the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) offices reopen.
  • Pilot modular housing initiative with 112 units on public land at Clearfield and A streets. The Department of Planning and Development, the Managing Director’s Office, and the Office of Homeless Services identified the target population as people over 65 years old or people with underlying health conditions, Foizen said. This coronavirus-related initiative is funded and scheduled for early 2021.

Editors: Claire Wolters, Henry Savage / Designer: Henry Savage

Kensington Voice is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.

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