Sanitation workers clear mounts of garbage from a heroin encampment at Lehigh and Kensington avenues.
Image Courtesy of Emma Lee WHYY, May 2018


Katie Gourley, MUP 2019

Summer 2018

Organization: City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Internship Program, Philadelphia, PA

Sponsor: Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship


“In addition to working on the Rebuilding Community Infrastructure initiative this summer, I have been helping Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services with an ongoing community organizing project within their Food Access Unit. The Kensington Community Meals Collaborative is a group that includes community leaders, faith-based organizations, volunteers, city representatives, philanthropic organizations, and emergency meal providers working in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Kensington is presently at the heart of the city’s opioid crisis and a place where a growing number of people in the neighborhood are experiencing homelessness and hunger.

The aim of the collaborative is to improve services, connect meal guests with other services and foster good will between residents, businesses and those experiencing homelessness, hunger and drug-related illness. One common issue is that, with increased news coverage of the City’s recent closure of two encampments, there has been an explosion of people wanting to do something to help. But not all help comes without negative side effects. For instance, there’s a new trend of people driving through the neighborhood and throwing food out their car windows. I witnessed this the other day when someone left a pile of about 100 nearly rotten bananas on the side of the road.

The Collaborative’s mission is to serve as a backbone to address these challenges and to ensure that people experiencing homelessness receive dignified and safe care. I have been working on creating outreach materials for meal providers and providing resources on how to respond appropriately and to administer Narcan in an emergency.

At this week’s Collaborative meeting, our discussion ended up focusing primarily on the topic of waste, an issue that the increase in outdoor meal providers has exacerbated. A resident of the neighborhood joined the meeting to report on his recent efforts to get more trash cans and his desire to replicate the Feed the Fish program of nearby (and gentrifying) Fishtown. We discussed difficulties with city capacity to manage cans, unequal distribution of trash cans, as well as the root of a ‘culture of litter’ that many in the city accept as fact. I am helping the group design outreach materials specifically for those in the meal provider community, aiming to provide information on how containers and food waste exacerbates the overflow of trash, human waste, and pests in a neighborhood and provide resources on how to combat litter in the neighborhood.”