Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Oct 29, 2012

"Disappearing" the Homeless at Pennypack Park


Viewer Comment on the video, Liddonfield Project History Debuts at Pennypack Creek Bridge Historical Marker Celebration, leads to questions about rights of homeless in Pennypack Park.

Comment from Reader: 

Unfortunately, there was one dark and hidden aspect to the Pennypack Creek Historic Marker Ceremony. As many people may already know, there are a substantial number of people who are homeless that live in Pennypack Park. A sizeable percentage of these individuals live, sleep, and hang out at the precise location where the bridge ceremony and activities were held. But mysteriously, all of these people were nowhere to be seen... You see, in the weeks leading up to the event, the Philadelphia Police Department made sure that none of these citizens were anywhere to be seen. It seems that these American Citizens, who have been left to their own devices for several years (coinciding with the beginning of the current depression) and who for the most part keep to themselves, were not good enough to be permitted to exist in this public area when so many politicians, bureaucrats, and perhaps media outlets (of which I saw none, but they were probably expected) were to be present. In fact, none of the individual who call the park home was even permitted to attend the event as regular attendees. The fact that those people were made to so completely disappear disturbs me very much and is very reminiscent of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. 

 It is also disturbing that the Bridge Ceremony was conducted in such a vacuum of artificiality as falsehood. The homeless people that live next to the bridge are as much a part of the current landscape as the 17,000 vehicles that pass over it each day, and as much as the polluted sewage water that flows under the bridge and is called Pennypack Creek. I am not attempting to debate the causes of homelessness, nor to debate our response to it. I am merely concerned that so many people were made to disappear and that their lack of presence created such a saccharine environment that served to deceive the attendees as to what the current state of the bridge actually is. Perhaps Rosemary can conduct an investigative piece into this matter and let us know what she finds out. I for one would be very interested in hearing what kind of pressures were applied to our fellow citizens, where they all went, and what their thoughts are on the bridge and its historical significance. Lt. William J. Lawler II, M.Ed

Response from Blogger:

When I was at the park I looked down to get supplies out from under my display table and saw a crack vial at my feet.  The first thing I did was look around for drug addicts or homeless people and wondered why I did not see any.  There were lots of empty crack bags and it was evident that much of what goes on at the park was very different than it first appeared.  No one else seemed to notice what was lying on the ground they were walking on.  

I was overcome with sadness.  I loved this park.  I used to fish in the creek with my brother many years before, when we were children.  Long after I was grown and had moved out of the area, I had reason to be in the neighborhood one day and  took advantage of the opportunity to visit Pennypack Park.  I walked along a dirt path and to my surprise, a doe jumped out from the trees and onto the path.  She stood just six feet or so away, dazed and staring at me with startled eyes for as much as twenty seconds.  Then she ran into the creek, crossed it and disappeared on the other side.

I lingered for a few seconds, reveling in the experience.  Finally, I took exactly two steps when a buck came out from the trees to follow her.  He stopped on the path as she did and looked at me with the same blank stare, startled to have come upon a human.   After a few seconds, he seemed to lose interest, ran into the creek, crossed it and disappeared on the other side in pursuit of the doe.  It was a magnificent experience I will never forget.  

So, I cared about this park as much as anyone could.  At the moment I noticed the crack vial, a little girl went skipping past.  As my eyes followed her, they were drawn in the direction of an officer on horseback who was keeping watch in the distance.  The officer was positioned rather far from the crowd.  He did not appear to be focusing on the area where the festivities were taking place.  Instead, he seemed to be guarding the perimeter and I was curious as to what may be out there that demanded his attention.  Someone asked a question about The History of the Liddonfield Name in Northeast Philadelphia exhibit I was displaying and I postponed analyzing my curious observations.  

The Pennypack Creek Historical Marker Celebration was intended to be a “family friendly” event and it succeeded.  There were lots of little children frolicking about, learning their history.  They deserve some measure of innocence before they grow up and find out the harsh realities of the real world, like drug addiction and homelessness and, of course, their safety must always come first.

On the flip side, Holmesburg and Upper Holmesburg have a tradition of systematically “disappearing” groups who do not conform to the neighborhood’s family friendly image.   These groups are made invisible by means of omission, such as the local mainstream press not covering their stories due to shying away from controversial issues or simply because they are conservative publications, and political figures appealing to certain groups while not addressing concerns of local alternate populations.  Police have been known to make sweeps where homeless persons are made to disappear from parks in other neighborhoods such as those in Center City, for instance, and it is certainly a possibility in this case.  I am not saying whether this is right or wrong, but we can certainly ask, is there a better way?  

I must disagree with you on a particular point.  Things were not as saccharin as they might have seemed to some at the Pennypack Creek Bridge Marker Celebration on October 13.   Public housing history was included at the event, a subtle but momentous turning point for this largely conservative area.  Not only did the organizers invite me to present the exhibit, but they were warm and welcoming and even let me borrow one of their tables on which to display it.  What's more, with few exceptions, the public’s response was overwhelmingly positive in regard to the public housing history aspect of the exhibit.  My heartfelt thanks go out to the organizers of the event  for offering this opportunity.

As to the homeless issue:  If there is a sizable homeless population living in Pennypack Park, how many are there?  Who are they?  Where do they go when they are not in the park?  Where do they come from?    How many lost their homes due to foreclosure?  Do the police have the duty or the right to move them on?  While I am not an investigative reporter, it’s worth looking into, so I just may write an article about it in the future on PublicHousingStories.com.

RELATED STORIES AND VIDEOS:

Liddonfield Project History Debuts at Pennypack Creek Bridge Historic Marker Celebration 

Holmesburg's Reaction to Liddonfield History Exhibit

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