Homeless Get The Bum's Rush

Known as “Camp Liberty,” an en­camp­ment sur­faced after some — who are home­less and had been part of Oc­cupy Philly — moved to an open stretch of pave­ment un­der I-95 at Cum­ber­land and Rich­mond streets.

Men and wo­men, many who were in­volved with the Oc­cupy Philly move­ment, have set up a home­less com­munity at Rich­mond and Cum­ber­land streets in Port Rich­mond.

Shortly after the Oc­cupy Philly move­ment was evicted from out­side City Hall, a small home­less en­camp­ment arose last week un­der I-95 in Port Rich­mond.

Yet, on Monday morn­ing, little re­mained of the camp.

After a second evic­tion — this one from PennDOT rather than the city — just one red tent re­mained be­fore the man­dat­ory evac­u­ation time of 11 a.m. as vo­lun­teers and home­less that had been part of the short-lived en­camp­ment swept and cleared trash from the area. 

“It’s a shame, this was really work­ing for them,” said Mike Pierce, a vo­lun­teer with Oc­cupy Philly who helped dis­mantle the camp on Monday. “It could have been great. It could have worked.”

But make no mis­take; al­though these “oc­cu­pi­ers” had been part of the ori­gin­al Cen­ter City protest, one of sev­er­al across the na­tion to em­phas­ize hard times for Amer­ic­ans these days, they were not try­ing to start a new “Oc­cupy Port Rich­mond” move­ment — though some had called the en­camp­ment “Camp Liberty.”

In­stead, it arose after some — who are home­less and had been part of Oc­cupy Philly — moved to an open stretch of pave­ment un­der I-95 at Cum­ber­land and Rich­mond streets ahead of last week’s city evic­tion or­der that cleared most of the demon­strat­ors from their en­camp­ment near City Hall.

On the chilly af­ter­noon of Wed­nes­day, Nov. 30, a num­ber of people camped at the Cum­ber­land and Rich­mond in­ter­sec­tion — on the stretch of land owned by PennDOT — spoke with the Star about their in­ten­tions, the sep­ar­a­tion from the “Oc­cupy” move­ment and the hope that area home­less people could live in a vis­ible place like that plot un­der I-95.

“We are hu­man be­ings, you know? But most people don’t treat you like one,” said Jerry Stan­ton, 61, who has been home­less since the sum­mer.

As he and Thomas Papineau, 47 — who said he’d been liv­ing on the streets of Phil­adelphia for at least a dec­ade — offered a tour of the small camp, the men ex­plained how it differed from the “Oc­cupy” protest down­town.

“We aren’t protest­ing any­thing … this is totally dif­fer­ent,” said Papineau. “We’re just home­less.”

On Sunday, Nov. 27, the roughly 30 home­less mem­bers of the camp had climbed aboard buses at City Hall. Po­lice evicted the Oc­cupy Philly campers in Dilworth Plaza in the early-morn­ing hours of Wed­nes­day, Nov. 30, and Papineau’s group left ahead of the evic­tion, he said.

At first they set up camp in the Con­rail fields across the street — a place where home­less people have long gathered to avoid scru­tiny — but the campers were told to leave.

The camp had been un­der I-95 since Tues­day, Nov. 29.

PennDOT de­livered its evic­tion no­tice last Sat­urday morn­ing, in­form­ing the home­less con­tin­gent that they had to be out by 11 on Monday morn­ing.

Eu­gene Blaum, a PennDOT spokes­man, said the agency also aler­ted Pro­ject H.O.M.E., a non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion that helps the city’s home­less, to the im­pend­ing evac­u­ation.

Blaum said the campers had to move be­cause of PennDOT’s con­cerns about health and safety is­sues posed by the set­tle­ment.

“We have very ser­i­ous con­cerns about un­au­thor­ized activ­ity un­der I-95,” he said.

Al­though the home­less people no longer were part of the “Oc­cupy” move­ment, vo­lun­teers from Oc­cupy Philly were in Port Rich­mond to help out and make sure every­one had food.

“Oc­cupy is nev­er go­ing away and the home­less situ­ation is nev­er go­ing to go away,” said Fran Shel­don, a Drexel Hill res­id­ent who vo­lun­teered to help sup­port the ori­gin­al Oc­cupy Philly en­camp­ment at City Hall.

“I came out here look­ing to help people. When I first got here, no one had eaten all day,” she said.

Earli­er that day, Nov. 30, the St. Fran­cis Inn Min­is­tries, at 2441 Kens­ing­ton Ave., had donated food for the camp, she said.

“I think some­times that these people are so fra­gile, we need to help them any way we can,” she ad­ded.

Oc­cupy Philly vo­lun­teer Pierce said that neigh­bors near the I-95 camp had been bring­ing hot soup and cook­ies to the vo­lun­teers and home­less camp mem­bers be­fore they had to move on be­cause of the PennDOT or­der.

Had the camp sur­vived, Har­vey Lock­ridge, 48 — who said he was in the Navy and ended up on the streets five months ago — be­lieved it could have been more than simply a place to stay.

Al­though it was a loosely or­gan­ized group, he sug­ges­ted that the campers could have aided the neigh­bor­hood with such pro­jects as cre­at­ing a com­munity garden or serving as a loc­al Town Watch. 

“We aren’t out here yelling or scream­ing,” he said. “We are out here be­cause we are home­less. But we un­der­stand and we don’t want people’s prop­erty val­ues to go down … so, maybe we could make a com­munity garden? We aren’t rad­ic­als or rif­fraff. We just want to get our lives back to­geth­er.”

In the neigh­bor­hood, re­ac­tions to the camp var­ied broadly. Some loc­als staunchly op­posed it, yet oth­ers had em­pathy for the home­less folks.

A simple com­ment for­um on the Star’s Face­book page gen­er­ated a great re­sponse and con­flict­ing view­points, from “They are adding filth to our neigh­bor­hood” to “‘Home­less’ and ‘Oc­cupy Philly’ are not syn­onyms, but symp­toms … I wel­come them!”

Ju­lio Nieves, 51, whose home on the 2500 block of Sal­mon St. is just feet from the camp­site, sup­por­ted ef­forts of the home­less people to be­come vis­ible con­trib­ut­ors to the com­munity.

“They aren’t the ninety-nine per­cent; they aren’t the one per­cent. They are the zero per­cent, and I feel bad be­cause nobody knows about them,” he said.

In fact, Nieves said the camp was an im­prove­ment over drug-deal­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion that he has seen in the past.

“I’d rather see them back there than vans rock­ing back and forth at night,” he said.

On Monday morn­ing, as vo­lun­teers and home­less people cleaned up the camp­site, Pierce wor­ried that the fu­ture for the campers was un­known.

“This was really work­ing for them … it was all about people work­ing to­geth­er,” he said.

He hoped that lead­ers of Oc­cupy Philly could help find hous­ing op­tions for the dis­placed campers. But some of the home­less people, in­clud­ing Stan­ton and Papineau, wer­en’t in­ter­ested in shel­ters, cit­ing prob­lems with sim­il­ar fa­cil­it­ies in the past. ••

Star Man­aging Ed­it­or Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com


You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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