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"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."

Alfred Klosterman, Harrowgate resident and Harrowgate Civic Association member

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?

It pretty much encapsulates 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.

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