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Philadelphia calls Kensington Avenue cleanup "successful encampment resolution," but questions remain

What's next after Philadelphia cleared out Kensington's homeless encampments?
What's next after Philadelphia cleared out Kensington's homeless encampments? 02:14

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Philadelphia's chief public safety director said the Parker administration's clearing of the homeless encampments along Kensington Avenue Wednesday morning was a "successful" resolution, but questions remain.

City outreach teams spent Wednesday morning cleaning up Kensington Avenue. Police closed Kensington Avenue from Allegheny Avenue to East Orleans Street, and street sweepers were brought in to clean up debris or needles that were frequently seen. The stretch of the avenue has since been completely cleared, officials said.

The cleaning up of Kensington Avenue was part of Mayor Cherelle Parker's plan to tackle the open-air drug market in Kensington. The long-troubled neighborhood has been a focal point for the mayor since she took office in January.

"As we continue to restore norms here in Kensington and make this one of our most thriving neighborhoods in Philadelphia," Adam Geer, the city's first-ever chief public safety director, said Wednesday. "This is all in line with the mayor's vision. I'm proud to stand up here with these folks and say that it was a successful encampment resolution."

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The Parker administration first posted signs on the 3000-3100 blocks of Kensington Avenue on April 4 as part of a 30-day "planned encampment resolution." The signs stated that camping and storing belongings would be strictly prohibited.

Geer said outreach workers have talked with homeless people in the area since the resolution went up last month. In that time, 59 people accepted housing and other services, including 19 Wednesday. Fifty-five of those people were connected to housing services and four others were connected to drug and alcohol services, according to the city.

The city said they've treated 88 people, including 12 new patients, for wound care and treated 1,242 total wounds over the past month

Geer claimed there were no major incidents Wednesday, and that most people had left by the time city workers came in. But in terms of the homeless population the operation targeted, it appeared those people were pushed to the side streets of Kensington Avenue without a permanent solution in place. Some homeless people were seen migrating up Allegheny Avenue.

Parker claimed that anyone who wanted to stay in Kensington would not be removed or arrested, but one outreach coordinator said the mayor told them the opposite.

"My concern is that people are still going to be arrested tonight," Roslyn Cachardo, executive director of Operation Save Our City, said. "Once this charade ends during the day and people need somewhere to come, they're going to come back here and folks are going to be arrested. Because Cherelle Parker did say arrests are going to be made."

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Geer said outreach teams are still walking around the neighborhood, trying to make contact with people who have moved out.

"They have gone beyond the encampment area to continue to try and interact, engage with as many other folks as they can," Geer said. "It may not be the first time, as we know, may not be the second time. May not be the third, fourth, maybe fifth. We're going to meet them where they're at. We're going to continue to do this hard work."

As for how the city plans to keep Kensington Avenue clean, Geer said the city can clear out any new encampment immediately if they're notified. The city is asking residents and business owners in the neighborhood to notify the city when they see them.

Geer added the city will also have eyes on the corridor. He said police would have a presence in the neighborhood, but he didn't say whether it would be increased or at the level it has been. CBS News Philadelphia reached out to the police department, and we have yet to hear back.

"We will have eyes on the blocks," Geer said. "Like I said, in case any new encampments try and pop up [and] that we're notified of them, we can take them down in 72 hours."

While the city is celebrating Wednesday's operation, others who have done outreach in the neighborhood for years are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"It's going to stop some deaths today, hopefully. I mean, usually three or four overdoses right here," Brian Parkhill, of Parkhill Recovery Solution's Outreach For The Lost: Kensington program, said.

The city will now be tasked with keeping the stretch of Kensington Avenue clear.

"They came in. They moved everybody out," Parkhill said. "But if you go on the side streets, they're flooded with people. Kensington Avenue looks good, but what about the people out there that are on the side streets terrified?" 

Chef Dionicio Jimenez owns and operates Cantina la Martina on D Street in the heart of Kensington and said while the restoration is a step in the right direction, it's not enough

"People get frustrated, get angry because you're moving people from one street to another," Jimenez said.  

Jimenez hopes long-term change will continue to be prioritized by the city, for his business and so many others who call this community home.

"We have a mission," Jimenez said, "and we have to work with that mission and try to make a way to work this out."

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