On January 5, city leaders gathered at the McPherson Square Branch Library to announce that millions of dollars from national legal settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors will be invested in Kensington.
Philadelphia will receive about $200 million from the settlements over the next 18 years. This year, the city has marked $7.5 million for Kensington schools, parks, and efforts to keep current neighborhood residents in their homes, including home repair, foreclosure prevention and rental assistance provided through organizations like NKCDC and Impact Services.
City leaders said that their funding decisions were shaped by ongoing conversations with Kensington community members. “We have spent the past 18 months regularly meeting with community leaders as a result of their awesome community organizing and call to action, summer 2021,” Noelle Foizen, director of Philadelphia’s Opioid Response Unit, wrote on Twitter. “I’m so proud of this difficult work and thankful we had the opportunity to put the money where our mouth is.”
Thanks for having us.
My name is Bill McKinney. For the past two years I have worked two blocks from here at New Kensington CDC. For the past 20 years I have lived across the street from where we are meeting right now. I live here and I work here.
As it is for most residents it is difficult living here. Life in Kensington is complicated. We are all suffering through daily trauma here. Be it the man sleeping in the street, the child who can’t walk to school, homes in disrepair, parks unusable. Last night one block from here there was a triple shooting, one of the victims a child.
These are all results of the opioid epidemic, an epidemic that has been amplified by structural racism, classism, and most peoples desire to contain rather than solve the problem. It is an unprecedented suffering and trauma we have collectively experienced.
Despite my best intentions, while I have been a part of small wins, I have failed Kensington. Everyone in this room has failed Kensington. The press has failed Kensington. The City has failed Kensington. Politicians, nonprofits, advocates—we have all failed because we have not achieved our goal of ending suffering in Kensington.
There has been plan after plan to address the issues here. I have watched top-down plan after plan fail. I’ve also watched, and sometimes taken part, in the continued mistake of advocating for only one group or issue rather than delving into the complexities of advocating for all who are suffering.
While It is often good for business to position selves as lone wolves in opposition to everything, it is not good for actual solutions. Those of us that actually live here are aware that we are all inter-connected and a comprehensive solution is necessary.
After hearing how these resources will be distributed, there will be those who will be angry that any resources are going towards children having better access to schools and parks, or families not losing their home to disrepair or eviction, and there will be those that will be angry that any resources are going to those that live on the street or live under the stranglehold of addiction.
I am asking people to let go for a moment, to connect to our humanity, to breathe and acknowledge suffering, period, and that we should hold a common desire to end it.
While we have become somewhat comfortable acknowledging the suffering and trauma here, I also ask everyone to acknowledged the leadership and resilience within this community.
As a fighter, I am critical by nature and often stand in opposition. But I do commend the City for recognizing that the path forward needs to be community-driven, trauma-informed and comprehensive in its approach.
I appreciate everyone that recognizes that those most impacted need to be at the center of the table when developing solutions. I don’t know where this will all end, but I do know that the community will be the ones to assess if folks have stayed true to that approach and if the efforts are successful.
So while resources are great this is not only about additional resources coming to Kensington but an acknowledgement that there needs to be a shift in how things are done. These are not the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to transform Kensington. But they are dollars that will impact thousands of lives and will allow people to continue to establish a foundation that allows for continued and expanded support
Hopefully these specific investments will help those suffering from addiction, from being unsheltered, will help families, and children, who have suffered for the crime of living here, will help our schools, and parks so that we can have the same things that everyone else in this room wants for themselves and their families.
These resources will also add to a process begun by the community a couple of years ago. They will help us to identify more pockets of people who want to be a part of the transformation of their community. Will help us to collectively identify the priorities of the community so that those of us with resources can actually listen and then co-create programs and projects that address those desires. And through this community driven process we will finally have an actual plan for Kensington.
Despite all of the challenges we face, I have hope. I have hope because of the leadership in this community. Hope because there are some in power who are willing to not only change plans but to adjust the paradigms they are currently operating under. And I have Hope because I believe that there are people that will take us up on this call to join something greater than themselves.
Eighteen months ago the community came together for a common goal of demanding that the Somerset train station reopen, and marched under a banner of “Safety and Solutions now.” The community was successful in those efforts. Thank you to those of you who are actually shifting towards new solutions and putting resources behind those shifts.
While for most this will all be forgotten in the 24 hour news cycle, I want to primarily thank those who will not be moving on in a few hours, my neighbors and our community leaders who have never stopped fighting for our community and for the healing of everyone who has and continues to suffer here.
Thank you again for having us here.