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