- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Philadelphia officials remained mum about their plans to resolve a standoff after protest leaders refused to leave and barred entrance to a homeless encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and a smaller encampment outside the headquarters of the city’s housing agency.

Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday that protest leaders had erected barricades and refused to allow outreach workers and members of the clergy in to offer assistance, even threatening violence and destruction. He questioned whether the camp leaders’ actions were “at odds with” the needs of the homeless.

“We’re assessing all our options,” the mayor said. “The activity we are seeing is unacceptable and frankly unsustainable. We are not wavering from our determination to resolve the encampments in an amicable way.”

He later warned, however, that “something is going to happen at some point in time - shortly.”

Kenney had ordered the camps vacated by 9 a.m. Wednesday, the latest of several deadlines, citing months of negotiations with organizers and others. He credited the protests with bringing attention to homelessness but said the camps must be removed “for the health and safety of all involved, including the surrounding community.”

“We’re not clear how many homeless individuals are still in the camps since we have not been allowed entrance,” Kenney said. “We have reason to believe that very few homeless folks are actually still in the camps.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported shortly before noon Wednesday that many tents at the parkway encampment were empty and people could be seen loading belongings for removal.

The nearby Whole Foods store boarded up its windows as it had following unrest and property destruction at the end of May and in early June following the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes even as he pleaded for air and stopped moving.

A federal judge last month gave the green light for the city to clear out the encampments but required occupants to receive at least 72 hours’ notice and said any property seized must be stored and returned. City workers earlier posted closure notices but postponed plans for action after camp residents sought an injunction.

The tent encampment of about 150 people on the parkway was erected on a baseball field June 10. Organizers said the camps were tied to the Black Lives Matter movement and were demanding equal access to fair, safe and affordable housing. Philadelphia Housing Action - the coalition of groups that organized the encampment - said it was conceived as a form of political protest over homeless policies and the lack of low-income housing.

Officials said more than 130 people had accepted aid such as transitional housing in COVID-19 spaces in hotels, or residential treatment, recovery homes and shelters. Another eight accepted housing and one job assistance Wednesday morning, they said. Protesters have demanded permanent housing using vacant spaces, but one official said the demand he characterized as “turning over the keys to vacant blighted property” was not a viable option.

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