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Fixing Philly – Caring for Those Leaving ‘El Campamento’

Today, Monday, July 31, the city and Conrail, will begin clearing out a Kensington site known as “El Campamento,” a camp that leads to a half-mile area along the railroad tracks that have long been a haven for heroin users looking to shoot up and hide from police.

As detailed recently in Time magazine, the area has been a problem for city officials and local residents for years until the city recently formed an agreement with Conrail that would see the area cleared by the end of this month. On Friday, city officials said that as this week’s clean-up gets underway, the city will also provide a temporary social services hub to help those struggling with addiction at the site at least until Wednesday, July 2.

But, what happens after that?

According to David T. Jones, the newly appointed head of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Philadelphia has capacity at its shelters for any heroin user who sees the end of El Campamento as the first step towards rehabilitation.

“We have capacity in our system to meet that need. Right now, we have capacity across the board,” he said, saying his office has been working with Conrail to anticipate the needs of those that will be pushed out of that area.

Jones’ department is funded to the tune of about $1 billion a year and, along with addiction services, the department manages the city’s mental health services and disability services, as well. And, that’s important, because, Jones said, it takes a rounded approach to be able to address issues of opioid addiction.

Along with needing to kick a drug addiction, Jones said, those who might have regularly visited El Campamento will likely need, what he called “social determinants,” which would include shelter, nutritional needs and food security and help building healthy relationships. To do this, he said, his department is set to help connect those who come to them for help breaking the cycle of opioid addiction with the many different organizations that work with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services.

“We have been really thoughtful and we are really going to try and make all of those connections across life’s domain,” Jones said, for those leaving El Campamento.

Also, he said, a big part of helping rehabilitate someone who is coming out of an addiction to an opioid like heroin is helping them find a support system – something he called ‘families.” And, he noted, that sometimes, “families” don’t mean just a person’s blood-related kin.

“We are trying to connect them to some type of family unit,” said Jones. “We have families that we are born into and we have families that we create. We are talking about families in the broadest sense.”

Finally, when asked if the controversial topic of safe injection sites were an idea that might help Philadelphia combat its opioid crisis, Jones said that his office is now looking at new strategies to make a dent in the problem, and safe injections sites are an idea that they are considering.

“We are looking at all strategies that will help people in their recovery and safe injections sites are one of those strategies that we are looking at,” he said. “We are exploring that as a strategy.”