Holmesburg-area residents were hoping that heightened public awareness of the Pennypack Creek Bridge would bring cleanliness and better security to the centuries-old viaduct at Frankford Avenue.
Instead, just three months after the dedication of a new Pennsylvania Historical Marker there, the bridge and its nearby parkland have again become focal points for litter, substance abuse and prostitution, as well as a makeshift haven for the homeless, according to neighborhood residents who vented their frustrations during the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association meeting on Jan. 17.
A Jan. 13 stabbing in the park sparked a renewed public outcry for more police coverage and park ranger patrols of the area.
“Our plans now are to take back the park,” said Stan Cywinski, president of the UHCA.
According to Philadelphia police, the non-fatal stabbing occurred at about 9 p.m. in the darkened woods of Pennypack Park about a half-mile west of Frankford Avenue. Police said that a man kicked his girlfriend and stabbed her in the leg with an undisclosed “cutting instrument” during an argument. The victim waited about 12 hours before reporting the incident to police the following morning. Police believe that the man and woman are homeless and may have been staying at a campsite in the park, although the park is supposed to be off-limits to the public at night.
The woman’s injuries were not considered life-threatening.
Neighbors reported seeing police investigating a stone pavilion just upstream from the bridge as part of the crime scene, although sources told the Northeast Times that the attack did not happen in or near the pavilion. Neighbors said they saw a Philadelphia fire engine company hose down the pavilion, which has a stone fireplace and has long been an overnight gathering spot for the homeless.
Northeast Detectives are investigating the case and have obtained an arrest warrant for a suspect, although he remained at large on Tuesday.
On Jan. 16, patrol officers from the 8th Police District returned to the park to further investigate reports that more than a dozen homeless people had set up campsites in the woods near where the stabbing occurred. The officers found numerous tent-type shelters on a remote wooded hillside, although rain and slippery conditions prevented them from removing the debris.
Community leaders were not surprised.
“We have known that has been an issue for quite some time now,” Cywinski said.
He believes that local folks are generally sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, who probably set up camps in the park at least partly because a church soup kitchen is within walking distance. However, neighbors are fed up with more nefarious activity that the area also seems to attract, including drinking, drug use and prostitution.
Some of those activities may also be linked to nearby apartment buildings.
On the evening of Jan. 16, leaders of the Upper Holmesburg and Holmesburg civic groups, along with nearby church and business leaders, complained to police at the monthly Police Service Area-1 meeting. Cywinski said he learned that park patrols depend upon available police resources.
“It takes multiple cops and time [that they’re] off the streets,” he said.
Cywinski recommended that residents start using the 911 system more to report suspected crimes. That way, the community will heighten its demand for police service and the department may funnel more officers into the district.
In an unrelated community issue, the operators of the Ashburner Inn reported that they planned to refurbish and reopen the business after a Dec. 21 fire gutted the bar/restaurant on the 8400 block of Torresdale Ave.
The cause was “electrical” in nature and started in the basement. The operators hope to start construction within a few weeks. A reopening date has not been set. The Ashburner opened in 2004 after extensive renovations to an existing property. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org