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East Torresdale not happy with 640-bed plan for addicts, homeless

Mayor Cherelle Parker’s plan to put 640 beds for addicts and homeless on State Road, near the prisons, did not get a favorable review from members at the recent East Torresdale Civic Association meeting.

The plan became publicly known on June 4. That night, Parker, managing director Adam Thiel and Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel held a meeting at the site, the former Riverview Homes, at 7979 State Road.

In attendance for the PowerPoint were City Councilman Mike Driscoll and leaders of the East Torresdale, Holmesburg, Upper Holmesburg and Holme Circle civic associations.

Joe Carson, president of ETCA, filled in his members on how the meeting went.

Carson noted that the land is city owned and in no need of zoning, adding that the site isn’t in ETCA’s jurisdiction. In all, the cost will be $100 million.

Carson has several concerns, including a recidivism rate for addicts that is about 50 percent. He also said there were no sufficient answers at the meeting about the process of discharge. He wants cameras, more lighting and routine police patrols, and noted the site is close to Pennypack on the Delaware and not too far from Fluehr Park, Glen Foerd and Pleasant Hill Park.

Carson said Parker is intent on going through with the plan.

“It wasn’t an ask,” he said. “It was a tell.”

The following is part of a statement from Parker’s office:

“Mayor Cherelle L. Parker and Managing Director Adam Thiel have briefed City Councilmembers about the Parker administration’s request for $100 million for long-term care, treatment, and housing for the City’s most vulnerable residents. … The phased approach includes a next step to rehabilitate and rebuild an existing City-owned property, Riverview on State Road, that offers those seeking shelter and treatment privacy and dignity in a state-of-the-art facility that is being developed with clear security and safety protocols.”

Several ERCA members hoped for some pushback from Driscoll, the way freshman Councilman Jay Young took exception to Parker’s plan to add beds for addicts, the mentally ill and homeless at a facility at 21st Street and Girard Avenue in North Philadelphia, and opposition from Councilman Curtis Jones to a planned rehab in Wynnefield by a private developer.

Stan Cywinski, a Driscoll aide and president of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association, was at Parker’s meeting. He said Driscoll played no role in the decision to open the rehab, adding that the city sought out the land near the prisons because it was too costly to find a private site.

Driscoll issued the following statement regarding the city’s proposed plans for the Riverview Wellness Village.

“My office very recently learned about the city’s by-right proposal for the Riverview Wellness Center adjacent to the city’s correctional facility on State Road in the Northeast. First, let’s acknowledge that many Philadelphians have experienced and know family members, friends and neighbors who have struggled with mental health and substance abuse. The issue is very visible across the Northeast including neighborhoods and venues along the Roosevelt Boulevard and the Delaware River. There is a great need for treatment and other wellness services, and the Administration has been exploring new sites across the entire city to provide these programs. 

“In doing so, public safety and the constituents in Council District 6 will be my top priority. I will work to ensure the city takes all measures to fully secure the site for those living in the surrounding community and those who may receive assistance there. It is also my goal to make sure residents of the NE community in which the proposed facility would be located are prioritized first for those services. Furthermore, a community advisory board should be established to evaluate all operations on an ongoing basis, and all contracted care providers must be held to the highest standards of quality, security and contractual performance, including financial firewalls.

“I will have further comment as more details of this proposal are made available to City Council, and 6th District residents should be reassured that the safety and well-being of our local neighborhoods will always remain my top priority.” 

Residents expressed various concerns.

One man pointed to the understaffed prisons and 8th Police District, along with recent prison escapes, “which we’re not even notified of any more.” Another feared Frankford and Cottman will be the new K&A. Another said Parker’s chasing addicts out of Kensington was “show and tell,” arguing that the addicts will go to adjoining areas, including the Northeast.

“The Northeast gets it stuffed down their throats,” he said.

One woman said there are already homeless encampments year round in Pennypack Park.

People complained of paying high taxes and getting unwanted facilities like the center for addicts.

“The Northeast has to take it,” one woman said.

Capt. Nick DeBlasis, commander of the 8th Police District, spoke at the ETCA meeting.

“We just have to wait and see,” he said about the center for addicts.

The land is on the border between the 8th and 15th police districts, and DeBlasis anticipates collaborating with the 15th to secure the property.

In other news from the June 10 meeting:

• DeBlasis was joined by community relations officer Chris Hanejko. The captain said he is dealing with homeless encampments behind Philadelphia Mills and trying to remove the occupants.

“There’s a lot of red tape,” he said.

DeBlasis said he has the OK to use overtime to boost staffing. He has officers stationed on weekends at Pleasant Hill Park to deal with complaints of loud, after-hours parties. Vehicles parked after 8 p.m. will be ticketed and towed.

• Representatives of Quiet Clean Philly spoke of their effort to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers, replaced by electric ones. The group believes gas-powered leaf blowers are too loud, harm the environment and contribute to ailments such as high blood pressure. Washington, D.C. has phased out gas leaf blowers, and California will do so in 2025. Penn and Drexel use electric leaf blowers, and Quiet Clean Philly contends electric blowers can be as strong as gas ones. It is said that 30 minutes of a gas leaf blower will discharge the same emissions as a car ride from Philadelphia to Juneau, Alaska.

One woman was not impressed with the Quiet Clean Philly representatives’ presentation.

“When are yas happy?” she asked.

• Paul Kaplan spoke on behalf of Philadelphia250, the upcoming celebration of the nation’s 250th birthday. Philadelphia will host major events such as men’s World Cup soccer games, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and NCAA men’s basketball tournament games. There will also be celebrations in neighborhoods. Those celebrations are in the planning stages.

• Ross Mitchell, executive director of Glen Foerd, 5001 Grant Ave., spoke of Third Thursdays, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., on June 20, July 18 and Aug. 15. There will be a happy hour, live music, food and beverages, children’s activities and art. The public is invited to bring a blanket or chairs, enjoy lawn games, roam Glen Foerd’s grounds and explore its Gilded Age mansion, which will be open for free self-guided tours. Donations are appreciated but not required, and attendees are asked to register in advance by visiting www.glenfoerd.org/events. Call 215-632-5330.

• Residents said Saints & Sinners, an adult entertainment club, is open at 8832 Frankford Ave., in the former Rosewood Caterers. An employee was robbed of $30,000 exiting the hall in a case police believe is an inside job.

• Linda Hogan won the cookie baking contest. The prize was a $50 gift card to Best Buy. The judges chose her batch of oatmeal cookies as the best.

• East Torresdale Civic Association will skip a July meeting and meet again on Monday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m. at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 9601 Frankford Ave. ••

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