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Kensington encampment cleanup: “There’s a whole bunch of cops out here, but there’s nobody to help us”

When outreach workers arrived, the people staying in tents and structures on the 3000-3100 blocks of Kensington Avenue were gone.

Police officers line the barricades on Kensington Avenue on May 8, 2024. (Photo by Kit Ramsey)

At around 7 a.m. on Wednesday, just an hour before the city’s scheduled encampment resolution on a two-block stretch of Kensington Avenue, over a dozen Philadelphia Police officers pushed a legal observer with their bicycles around the corner.


In a video shared with Kensington Voice, legal observer Aine Fox’s hands are raised as police push their bikes into her back. In the same video, three officers grab and shove a man across the street. All the while, a woman can be heard yelling about the services the city promised. 

“We been signing up for rehab, we been signing up for all this stuff, but where are the buses?” she shouted. “There’s a whole bunch of cops out here, but there’s nobody to help us. Where are the buses at? Where’s the mayor?” 

A screen capture of a video of police pushing legal observer Aine Fox onto Allegheny Avenue on May 8, 2024. (Screen capture courtesy M Holliday Davis)

Legal observers and harm reductionists said they were on Kensington and Allegheny avenues by around 6:30 a.m. They said they were trying to give people bags for their belongings, cigarettes, and bus tickets when police escorted them out of the area. 

“It started to pour. There were women with no pants on that they were forcing to move out,” said Eva Fitch, a harm reduction advocate. “And everyone was just asking, ‘Where are the vans?’” 

Before Wednesday, representatives from the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), the Office of Homeless Services (OHS), the Overdose Response Unit (ORU), and the PPD said individuals would have an opportunity to accept transport to a shelter, medical facility, rehabilitation center or other location. 

“The resolution in Kensington on May 8, 2024 is not a police action but a service-led resolution spearheaded by street outreach teams,” reads a sheet distributed to reporters Wednesday titled “Facts About Encampment Resolution.”

Police officers speak with harm reduction advocates and legal observers before clearing them out of the encampment clearing. (Photo by Kit Ramsey)

According to the city’s directives, the encampment resolution was supposed to start at 8 a.m. and last until 3 p.m. Police officers and city staff were supposed to document and store people’s personal belongings for up to 30 days while they connected to services. 

But when outreach workers arrived – around 7:30 a.m., according to city representatives – the people staying in tents and structures on the 3000-3100 blocks of Kensington Avenue were gone.

Police officers arrived at approximately 5:30 a.m., according to PPD representatives. By 7:20, city sanitation workers were throwing away peoples’ tents, according to another video.  

Legal observers and harm reductionists said they witnessed unhoused individuals being pushed out by police and asking for city services before outreach workers had arrived.

“There was no one except the police,” said Fitch. “Everyone was just asking, ‘Where are the vans? They said they would be here to pick me up.’” 

As of just after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, city leaders said they didn’t know where people scattered after police arrived. 

“There was rain, people left,” said Adam Geer, the city’s Chief Public Safety Director.  “There were things left, and we’re still trying to understand how that played out.”

City sanitation workers throw out people's tents before social service workers arrive on May 8, 2024. (Photo by Kit Ramsey)

Geer said outreach workers would continue to engage people Wednesday and in the following days “as we continue to restore norms here in Kensington.” 

“This is all in line with the Mayor’s vision,” he said.  

Mayor Cherelle Parker has previously vowed to eliminate open-air drug markets in Kensington. Her five-phase plan for the neighborhood begins with a “warning and opportunity” phase followed by a “law enforcement” phase, which police representatives previously said would not officially start until after the encampment resolution. Arrests for drug use and possession have been ramping up since Parker took office.

When asked about police officers’ use of force Wednesday morning, Geer said he had “heard absolutely nothing about any kind of physical contact.”

‘These officers have training, this specific training to deal with folks,” he said. 

According to community advocate Roz Pichardo, the city’s street cleaners were “blowing trash on people and sweeping,” which caused people to disperse before 6 a.m. 

“You have folks with gaping wounds,” said Pichardo. “There’s no reason why there should be debris around folks like that.”

Pichardo said the city misled the community into thinking city agencies would connect people to services.

“I think this is a clear example of deception,” she said. 

People disperse as police and city sanitation crews clear out the 3100 block of Kensington Avenue on May 8, 2024. (Photo by Kit Ramsey)

M Holliday Davis, with SOL Collective, said police ordered dozens of people to move. 

“They blocked it off, and they swept people out. There were no outreach workers present. They just swept the entire stretch of it,” Davis said.

Throughout the morning, harm reductionists could be seen helping people in wheelchairs out of the barricaded blocks along Kensington Avenue.  

“There were people inside of that blocked-off area, and they said, ‘An outreach worker told me to meet them here at 8 a.m.,’” Davis said.. 

SEPTA police took a man on Kensington Avenue into custody shortly before 9 a.m. for possessing drug paraphernalia, according to a SEPTA spokesperson. The man was nodding off and in possession of several needles. Police unbuckled his pants and pulled them down so they gathered at his ankles, then checked the pockets and the interior of the gym shorts he was wearing underneath. 

Neither the SEPTA spokesperson nor the Philadelphia Police Department could confirm whether the arrest was part of the encampment resolution.

Some people left out of fear of arrest, including Dawn, who said she recently started using drugs again and left Kensington Avenue after watching police force people to move. 

“I thought they were coming to help people, but they only came to hurt people,” said Dawn, who declined to share her last name for privacy reasons. “They didn’t do anything they said they were going to do.” 

A city sanitation worker cleans trash as two police officers tell a man to move off of the 3100 block of Kensington Avenue. (Photo by Kit Ramsey)

At around 9 a.m., Darryl, who also declined to share his last name for privacy reasons, was sitting inside Pichardo’s Sunshine House after he said a police officer told him to move off Kensington Avenue. He currently lives in a shelter in Center City. 

Darryl said the officer told him, “You can’t stand and all this stuff.” 

Zane-na Jones, who has been living in a vehicle in Kensington with her three children for the last six months, said she walked down Kensington Avenue Wednesday morning hoping to find a housing advocate to help her. 

She’d heard on the news that assistance would be available as part of the encampment resolution. She put her ID and housing voucher in her pocketbook and started walking from where she was staying near Somerset Avenue and Kensington Allegheny. 

But she said she couldn’t find anyone to speak with when she got there. By 5 p.m., she said she never found an outreach worker to help her and her family find housing. 

“They was going to help the homeless people with housing,” she said. “But they’re not helping. It baffles me a lot.”

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