On May 5th, the Office of Homeless Services in conjunction with the Philadelphia Police cleared a homeless encampment underneath Locust St. between 12th and 16th Street. This action came just 35 days after the OHS and Philadelphia Police conducted a cleaning of the underground encampment area in late-March.
According to Dave Holloman, chief of staff for the Office of Homeless Services “about 10” unhoused individuals accepted the OHS’s help and were admitted into the Rapid Rehousing Program or entered a shelter. However, the other 10 to 20 residents of the underground encampment have been displaced. The residents of the encampment were warned of the impending sweep weeks in advance, which prompted many residents to leave before the formal sweep.
Skye, a woman in her mid-40’s, had been living under Locust St. for nearly a year before being evicted. “The process has been hard, because they told us to leave… so everyone packed up & I found another street to go, but they made me leave,” Skye explains.
Skye and an unhoused friend still stay under Locust St following their eviction, but only until 1am because “the police kick us out.” She also claims that the police recently took and threw away her belongings.
“Thursday afternoon police took my tent, all my clothes, my personal documents, and everything is gone, I have nothing but what you see on my back.”Skye
Following her displacement and the disposal of her property, she then decided to sign up for an OHS program. “They signed me up two weeks ago, I did my interview, today I signed my documents. It’s a waiting process now, but I refuse to go into a shelter,” she explains. Like many other unhoused people, Skye does not feel safe in the City’s shelter system.
When asked if she trusted the City to get her housing, she said “not really but imma see what’s going on.” Skye has been homeless since she was 17 years old and does not trust the City of Philadelphia to help her.
There is a growing sentiment in the unhoused community that the Office of Homeless Services is focused primarily on “getting social security numbers.” The theory being that the OHS uses the social security numbers to prove they’re helping people and to acquire funding, but then leave the homeless out to dry. “If they don’t follow through with what they said after I gave them my Social Security number there will be hell to pay,” said Skye.
Philadelphia has continually struggled to engage with unhoused communities when they band together. In 2020, the City tried and failed on three separate occasions to evict a homeless encampment along the Ben Franklin Parkway. On April 13th, 2021 the OHS and Police cleared an encampment outside of Reading Terminal Market, which included sending a 61 year old woman to rural South Carolina on a bus without a cell phone.
During the clearing of the underground encampment, police barred journalists, activists, and protestors from speaking with the unhoused.
Skye ended her interview with the Plain Dealer by imploring “I need help with clothes and food, if you can, come down and feed us. Show that you care.”