FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 10, 2020
Contact: Mike Wilson, 267-339-4309
JTD Encampment Demands Safety, Housing, and Meeting with Mayor Kenney
Philadelphia, PA — Today, amid threats of removal from the city and days of terrorization, intimidation, and attempted manipulation at the hands of clergy, fellow city residents, and the Philadelphia Police Department, residents of the James Talib-Dean (JTD) Encampment held a press conference from their homes on the Parkway to demand safety, housing, an immediate end to homelessness, and a meeting with Mayor Kenney.
“Mayor Kenney says that this encampment is unlike any other encampment the city had to deal with and that’s true. It’s true because this is not just a homeless encampment… This is a protest. This is a statement. This is an indictment on the city’s 100 year failure to deal with chronic homelessness in this city.” Jamal Henderson, an encampment organizer.
Residents disputed claims that the encampments are violent, unsafe, or stockpiling for a confrontation, insisting the police and city are the aggressors, not the camp community. “We are being attacked by the police because we don’t have nowhere to go, we don’t have anywhere to live. Help us out. We are asking for help…. Everyone here needs housing,” states long term encampment resident Lindell, who has been suffering from housing insecurity in the city for over 20 years. When asked about the pallet barriers erected along 22nd Street, Henderson states, “These barriers aren’t put up to be violent, they are for the camp’s protection. We have seen this city will not hesitate to use rubber bullets and tear gas on people,” referencing the police violence seen earlier this summer in 676 and in West Philadelphia.
“The City is the one threatening us with violence,” said Wiley Cunningham of Philadelphia Housing Action “not only in terms of sending in police to clear the encampments by force, but also by forcing homeless people back onto the streets with nowhere to go, no shelter and no sanitation in the midst of a global pandemic. The City’s timeline for eviction is artificial, no one should have to leave this camp until they have been offered permanent housing that meets their needs.”
While the city has offered to provide services to residents of the encampment, residents explained these services insufficient to address chronic homelessness. “The shelters aren’t safe. I’d rather be on the streets than live in a shelter,” states Peyton McKoy, a long-term encampment resident who went to school to become a film director and has been suffering from housing insecurity. The community-created JTD encampment provides anyone in need with easily accessible food, shelter, clothing, bathrooms, showers, COVID testing and the ability to safely socially distance while also encouraging residents to access city-run services provided by offices in locations outside of the encampment. In comparison, McKoy and others state unsafe and inhumane conditions including bedbugs and food poisoning, a lack of medical care or assistance and no COVID-19 safety precautions, and an unnavigable bureaucracy with waitlists “years long” prevent them and their families from easily accessing and utilizing city-run housing programs and homeless outreach services. And with the opening of eviction courts earlier this month amid a worldwide pandemic and the farthest reaching unemployment rates seen in recent memory by residents, many at the encampment expect the population to continue to grow and as it does, the city’s failure to provide safe, accessible, humane long-term housing solutions for its residents will only become more clear.
Until the demand for housing is met by the city, community members intend to continue meeting their own needs with each other, pitching tents and defending the encampments until every community member is provided safe, affordable housing fit for human beings.
“We are fathers and mothers out here trying to provide for our families. Circumstances are hard, it’s a pandemic. This is what we had to do to help our own selves because we’re not getting help from our own state. And when you don’t get help from your own state the people have to come together as a whole and help each other,” roared Lindell to a lively crowd of residents and supporters who all agree— “We are going to get housing whether they help us or not.”
Camp JTD at 22nd and Benjamin Franklin Parkway was started on June 10th, 2020 shortly after the George Floyd uprising to demand permanent housing along with other issues affecting the homeless. Camp Teddy on 21st and Ridge Ave began two weeks later to bring attention to the Philadelphia Housing Authority and its hoarding of thousands of vacant properties. Both camps are past the third city imposed deadline for eviction and have asked supporters to come and defend the encampments and their demands.