PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The City of Philadelphia is trying to figure out what to do about an encampment around the intersection of 22nd Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway. While the encampment is described as a form of protest, city officials fear that it poses a health and safety threat.
Comparisons have been drawn to the autonomous zone in Seattle, known as CHAZ, that has gained a lot of attention, but this is much smaller and different in that the focus in on the unhoused community.
Minutes into CBS3’s reporting on the semi-permanent protest zone in Center City, a participant approached our Eyewitness News camera.
“You need to get the consent of everyone involved here,” the protester said.
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But video and still photography taken of activity on or in plainly visible public spaces is a right protected by law.
The corner of 22nd Street and the Parkway is public property and as of last week, it’s the location where a tent community has been growing.
Organizers oppose laws that prohibit encampments on public property and seek autonomy in allowing currently homeless or “unhoused” individuals to camp on city spaces without intervention.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the city told CBS3, “This encampment was originally organized not by homeless individuals, but by groups identifying themselves as ‘The Workers Revolutionary Collective’ and ‘Occupy PHA.’ (Members have since recruited homeless individuals to be part of the encampment). Homeless Outreach workers who visited the site to offer housing and services were asked to stay away.”
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Due to COVID-19 and general safety concerns, the spokesperson added that over the weekend, the city offered to meet with representatives to come to a resolution. The city also confirmed that they have received a list of demands.
According to a document found on the Occupy PHA Facebook page, those demands include the transferring of all vacant city-owned properties to a community land trust and sanctioning the Parkway encampment as “permanent, legal and valid and a NO POLICE ZONE.”
On the Facebook page, a post denied turning away Homeless Outreach.
According to the city, they recognize this as a protest and are hopeful to come to an “equitable solution.” But they say the camp is not a long-term solution to homelessness.