Northeast Times

The camp under I-95 is gone, what's next?

In this week's River­ward Rant, Joe looks at the plight of the home­less loc­ally, and notes that the prob­lem isn't go­ing away any time soon.

In the weeks since po­lice broke up the home­less en­camp­ment on Rich­mond Street, un­der the I-95 over­pass, people have asked, “Where have the home­less gone?”

Well, I can tell you, and no, the an­swer isn’t in front of the Wawa at Rich­mond Street and Al­legheny Av­en­ue — al­though some­times it seems like it.

If you pay even scant at­ten­tion to the com­ings and go­ings of those liv­ing out of shop­ping carts and trash bags, you’ll likely no­tice that many of them slip in­to the vast, un­pop­u­lated sec­tions near and on the river­front.

The only dif­fer­ence between the scattered river­ward home­less pop­u­la­tion now and a few weeks ago, when they were clustered un­der I-95, is that they moved a couple yards away and de­cided not to have a big old tent party.

What I’m say­ing is that, even if you don’t see them, there are no few­er home­less dudes in the river­wards than there were be­fore or dur­ing the so-called “Oc­cupy Port Rich­mond” fiasco.

After the en­camp­ment was evicted, some neigh­bor­hood people cheered that the home­less were “fi­nally gone.”

Ex­cept they’re not gone.

Not by any means; they’re just less vis­ible.

Port Rich­mond and Fishtown might have the largest home­less pop­u­la­tion in the city, and it’s not be­cause of our good cheer, char­it­able nature or tour­ist at­trac­tions.

In­stead, it’s be­cause of our river­front, that large in­dus­tri­al area com­pletely devoid of, you know, in­dustry.

Again, the home­less didn’t van­ish.

They’re still five minutes away.

And they’re not both­er­ing any­one. Well, not un­less you get a bit agit­ated when someone with holes in his socks asks you for a quarter as you’re walk­ing out of Wawa.

And, as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a home­less crime wave in Port Rich­mond or Fishtown.

So why not ac­com­mod­ate the home­less on the river­front?

There’s noth­ing go­ing on in those grassy, va­cant fields.

We all know that the at­temp­ted en­camp­ment un­der I-95 was out of the ques­tion. The people liv­ing near the camp that was erec­ted along Rich­mond Street work long and hard to main­tain their homes, and they didn’t de­serve to have their prop­erty val­ues plum­met be­cause of the en­camp­ment in their midst.

But the river­front is a dif­fer­ent story. It’s se­cluded. You’d barely know you’re in Philly back there.

It wouldn’t be dif­fi­cult to keep a hy­po­thet­ic­al hobo town safe. Maybe give them a fenced area of that va­cant prop­erty to put up their tents; keep a po­lice patrol in the area.

There would be in­fin­itely more se­cur­ity for the home­less there, plus you wouldn’t have to sleep in fear of po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous street dwell­ers out­side your back yard.

After all, tem­por­ary as it was, there was no vi­ol­ence at the “Oc­cupy Port Rich­mond” site, and all it took was two cops in a squad car to keep watch.

The greatest in­con­veni­ence we’d face from a hy­po­thet­ic­al hobo town on the river­front may be smelly feet and body odor, but that could be an im­prove­ment over the pu­trid chem­ic­al musk that of­ten wafts off the Delaware River.

All of this may not be a per­fect solu­tion, but if you have even a shred of pride in this city, you should be mad that so few have tried to think out­side the box when it comes to our home­less pop­u­la­tion.

We’re sup­posed to be one of Amer­ica’s great cit­ies, the City of Broth­erly Love, but when faced with a vul­ner­able pop­u­la­tion of tran­si­ents, too of­ten people just say, “Pitch your tent some­where else, smelly!”

Sure, there are plenty of folks who’d curse these down-and-out types and sug­gest that it’s time for them to boot­strap their way out of the gut­ter, but that’s easi­er said than done.

Without bet­ter al­tern­at­ives, all the Hor­a­tio Al­ger quotes in the world won’t stop Tooth­less Jim from set­ting up his mea­ger ex­ist­ence in the aban­doned lot on your block.

I think we river­ward res­id­ents should get be­hind a more con­struct­ive idea of what to do with — and how to treat — Phil­adelphia’s home­less cit­izens.

I think we can man­age to give them a place for a safe tent town.

It may lack the com­forts of home, but I doubt that’s at the top of their list. ••

River­ward Rants re­flects the opin­ions of Joe Quigley, a Fishtown res­id­ent, area nat­ive and writer of the Web site PhillyNeigh­bor.com, where he makes cyn­ic­al (and un­censored) com­ments about life in the river­wards. He can be reached at JQuig1984@gmail.com

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