At-Large City Councilmember Allan Domb introduced on April 7 a resolution urging the Mayor, Governor, and Pennsylvania General Assembly to declare a state of emergency in the Kensington area due to the humanitarian disaster caused by the worrying urban opiate crisis.
An emergency declaration would allow the City of Philadelphia to seek available relief resources from the state and federal governments via the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address the crisis in Kensington and the 19134 zip code, which continues to lead the city in drug overdose deaths.
Overdose deaths have claimed nearly 1,200 lives in the city during the last four years.
The resolution was written by Councilmember Domb and introduced by Councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District) and Mark Squilla (1st District).
“My colleagues have put a great deal of time and resources into addressing the many complex issues that have consumed Kensington for far too long,” said Councilmember Domb. “Despite the city’s countless efforts and those efforts made by so many amazing community-based organizations and residents, we must acknowledge that our approach isn’t getting the results Kensington deserves. This has become a disaster area of epic proportions (…) that requires relief efforts that far exceed the capacity and resources of City government.”
A troubled corridor
For decades, the community surrounding the Kensington Avenue corridor has struggled under the weight of robust drug trade, criminal activity, violence fuelled by territorial illegal drug sales, and people suffering from substance use problems, mental illness, and homelessness.
The streets are strewn with trash, deadly needles, and other hazardous waste from open drug use.
“Kensington is subjected to conditions unimaginable anywhere else in Philadelphia,” said Councilmember Sánchez. “We need all hands on deck, at every level of government, to support neighbors and families and address this public health and safety crisis with meaningful relief measures, policy change, and restorative community investments.”
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A world of possibilities
If state and federal partners declare Kensington an emergency area, the city will be able to access resources for hazard mitigation, access to health-related treatments, neighborhood cleanup, remediation, and wraparound social services for neighborhood residents, those experiencing homelessness, and suffering from substance use disorders.
“We must explore every option and think outside of the box in order to get the Kensington and Harrowgate neighborhoods every possible resource to address the neighborhood issues and the opioid crisis that have arisen because of failed policies that have been allowed to fester for years,” said Councilmember Squilla. “We must do better by our residents and must explore every avenue to help us combat these issues. We are fully committed to addressing our resident’s quality of life issues but require assistance beyond what the city itself can handle.”
The resolution passed by City Council acknowledges the Mayor’s Administration’s initiatives to address the persisting problem. Councilmembers endorse the Mayor’s request to state and federal officials to establish a state of emergency in Kensington.
“We all want the same things here, and the moment has come for us to take big, unprecedented steps,” Councilmember Domb remarked.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Green, Gilmore-Richardson, Parker, Brooks, Bass, Gauthier, and Thomas in addition to Sánchez and Squilla.
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