An attack is coming on the Kensington drug market, but will it succeed?

More than five months after Mayor Cherelle Parker took office, her administration is preparing for its first major public action to shut down a decades-old outdoor drug market in Kensington.

According to unofficial information, city employees will start work liquidation of camps on Wednesday along a two-block stretch of Kensington Avenue near Allegheny. Drug users and others living on the street they will be given access to social services such as shelters and recovery treatment, and will be forced to leave the area.

The city cleared encampments in the same place and other parts of Kensington many times in the past and drug dealers were arrested, only to reappear within a few days. The Parker administration says it is developing a long-term policing, social services and neighborhood revitalization plan to prevent this, but it is unclear when it will be launched.

Here’s a look at the recent history of Kensington’s drug market and current efforts to address the challenges facing the borough.

Operation Sunrise and more

Kensington, once a bustling factory district, experienced deindustrialization and white flight in the 1950s. It became a depressed economic haven for drug dealers and users who took over abandoned homes or operated openly on the streets.

Community groups and the city have periodically launched efforts to crack down on what is known as the largest open-air drug market on the East Coast.

In 1998, for example, Mayor Ed Rendell and Police Commissioner John Timoney launched Operation Sunrise, which sent police to arrest prostitutes and traffickers, L&I workers to seal abandoned homes, and sanitation workers to sweep streets.

About eight years ago, when the opioid epidemic hit, the area came back to prominence. The Conrail tracks in Kensington’s Badlands have become a major drug camp librarians at the McPherson Square branch are notable for becoming experts in bringing life back to overdose victims.

Police hundreds of people were arrested and tracks were cleaned up, but despite the efforts of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, a larger drug problem emerged seemed largely unchanged or even worsened, with 650 or more people living on the streets.

Sidewalk camp in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. May 6, 2024 (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Kensington and Dr. Mehmet Oz were frequently discussed in the national press he talked there with people using drugs when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2022. During last year’s mayoral campaign, several candidates were vague about end of the drug market by increasing policing or increasing the provision of social services.

After Parker won the Democratic nomination last year, she vowed to win it The National Guard enters lend a hand close it. (Governor Josh Shapiro, who would have to quickly approve the rangers’ call he rejected the idea.)

When she was inaugurated in January, Parker released a 100-day action plan that prioritized public safety and specifically tasked the modern police commissioner, Kevin Bethel, with “developing a strategy to permanently close open drug markets, including Kensington’s.”

Waiting and alarm on the streets

In January, the mayor appointed, among others: modern deputy commissioner of policePedro Rosario to focus specifically on combating drug dealing, shootings and other crimes in Kensington.

New The Kensington Club of City Council members proposed a system triage centers. where homeless people experiencing addiction could choose to seek treatment or face prison time. Council member Quetcy Lozada, who represents the district, also won approval for the project Curfew for smoke shops at 11 p.m and some other businesses in the Kensington section.

The apparent augment in police targeting of drug users has sparked concern among people living on the streets and the nonprofit organizations that lend a hand them, especially after heavily armed law enforcement officers from the state attorney general’s office were seen rounding up people near Kensington and Allegheny Avenues in early February.

Bethel said that soon after Parker’s 100th day in office – in early April – police would begin actively enforces the law against illegal drug apply and minor crimes that often go unpunished, while ensuring people have access to treatment. Then Rosario started recruitment of officers for the Kensington Task Force.

In March, Parker released her budget proposal for fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1. It includes $100 million for “segregation and wellness” facilities and will augment the police budget.

At the same time, she proposed ending support for needle exchange programs that reduce the incidence of HIV and other diseases among people who apply intravenous drugs, including: $900,000 cut from the city’s contribution to Prevention Point, a social services organization in Kensington.

Enforcement block by block

For mayor 100th day at the officethe city spent approx he promised a police plan with some details of what Bethel calls the Kensington Community Rebirth.

The police department said it would employ a Weed and Seed strategy, in which police and prosecutors would work to remove criminals “committing violent crimes and drug abuse” and provide social services such as drug prevention, intervention and treatment, as well as neighborhood revitalization resources.

Kensington Community Revival, led by the Philadelphia Police Department, will initially focus on the triangular section of the neighborhood. (Philadelphia Police)

The effort will initially focus on a triangular zone bounded by E, Jasper and Tioga streets and Indiana Avenue, and will eventually expand outward.

The plan calls for the creation of an interdisciplinary team that will be able to join forces across mayoral administrations, maintain community partnerships, conduct targeted drug testing to address problems on street corners, end the carrying of illegal firearms and “establish additional reinforcements to eliminate Kensington as a destination.” for drugs in Philadelphia.” “

The plan includes five steps: alerting drug users to their last chance to get services; intensive, extended enforcement period, block by block; intense patrolling to keep sidewalks clear and make improvements such as better street lighting; handing over the blocks “back to the rightful owners of the commune”; and a final phase-out period as police move to other districts.

Obstacles and skepticism

Over the past month, police and city officials have been conducting operations visiting people living in tents on Kensington Avenue, informing them about shelters and treatment options. The police could start deleting on Wednesday, the Inquirer reported about 75 people.

May 8, 2024 Tent and Property Clearance Notice posted in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHY)

However, the encampment cleanup is separate from the Kensington Community Recovery at Bethel, said managing director Adam Thiel. As Parker’s term as mayor enters its fifth month, it is still unclear when the long-term “weeding and sowing” will formally begin.

Part of the arrest may be lack of sufficient number of treatment beds for potentially hundreds of people who are off the streets in a brief period of time with drug addictions, infected wounds, mental health issues and other challenges.

To fill this gap, the city plans to create a shelter and segregation center at ul former social welfare facility owns in Fairmount — though the plan surprised area council member Jeffery Young and him expressed his objection to the plan.

It is also unclear how and when drug users may be prosecuted or face prosecution. District Attorney Larry Krasner stopped prosecuting prostitution and small-scale drug users years ago and told the Kensington Voice that it does not support re-incrementing themalthough he thinks the triage center concept could work.

Law enforcement officials and others accuse Krasner of taking a supple approach to crime, and some Philadelphia cops confirm apparently skeptical that the crackdown on drug traffickers will be a success unless prosecutors start winning tough sentences.

Other critics, including some Kensington Avenue residents, note that the earlier crackdown simply drove out dealers and users for a brief period of time and expect that it will happen again This time.

Bill McKinney, executive director of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, said current efforts are there fourth plan “fix Kensington” over the last 20 years. He warned that the city’s plan may fail unless it addresses the deeper social problems that have allowed the drug market to survive for generations.

“Without a broader plan that tackles the root causes of how we got here in Kensington, after celebrating the initial ‘successes’ of clean-up, curfews and policing, crime, drugs and encampments – which have been relocated for a while – will return. ” – he wrote in the Inquirer.

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