Report highlights notable achievements, lessons learned, and next steps to address the opioid epidemic
PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia today released a progress report for the Philadelphia Resilience Project, the emergency response established last October by Mayor Jim Kenney to combat the opioid epidemic. Over the past eight months, 35 City agencies and departments worked intensively and collaboratively to address homelessness, drug overdoses, and quality of life issues in the Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods of the city. The Mayor also announced that he is extending the executive order to continue this work.
The Resilience Project is comprised of seven mission areas, which focus on addressing core issues, such as homelessness, crime, and neighborhood quality of life concerns. Some of the Resilience Project’s accomplishments include:
Mission Area 1: Clear major encampments
By the time the Resilience Project began in October, the City had already successfully and humanely closed two of the four large encampments in Kensington. This experience was used to close the remaining two large encampments, which were hubs for drug use, criminal activity, and dangerous conditions. Since clearing all major encampments in Kensington, those locations have not been re-encamped. The City also earned a positive evaluation from University of Pennsylvania researchers for its compassionate and permanent encampment resolution.
Mission Area 2: Reduce criminal activity
While Kensington neighbors take pride in their community, this section of the city has been impacted by drugrelated crime for decades. Reducing crime requires complex, data-informed approaches as well as collaboration among City departments, law enforcement partners, and residents. Since the Resilience Project began, the City has expanded its Police-Assisted Diversion program to this area; begun “Safe Routes to School” with six local schools; installed 1,000 LED street lights and additional cameras; and launched a warrant initiative resulting in 180 arrests.
Mission Area 3: Reduce the number of unsheltered individuals
The number of people on the street in Kensington rose dramatically to 700 in summer of 2018 — reversing the trend of gradual reduction in Philadelphia’s street homeless populations. Thanks in part to the Resilience Project, the current street homeless population in Kensington is about half what it was last summer. Through Resilience, the City has expanded emergency and temporary housing to 220 beds in the target area; added 210 long-term housing opportunities for those most in need; and provided 45,000 bed nights for more than 500 people.
Mission Area 4: Reduce trash and litter
The City is working to revitalize Kensington, and that means removing trash and litter and improving the quality of life in the area. Through major community cleanups, mural projects, needle disposal initiatives, and other programs, Mission Area 4 is helping to beautify the neighborhood. So far, this mission area has hosted seven large-scale volunteer cleanups, removing more than 375 tons of trash and over 600 abandoned vehicles and installing needle drop boxes. This group also initiated a new needle collection program that has collected nearly 25,000 discarded needles; launched a weekly street sweeping program; and completed more than 24,000 graffiti abatements.
Mission Area 5: Reduce overdoses and the spread of infectious diseases
The opioid epidemic is the worst public health crisis in Philadelphia in a century. One of the most important goals of the Resilience Project is to save the lives of people affected by opioid use disorder. Through the work of Mission Area 5, the City conducted nearly 2,500 HIV tests in Kensington; distributed opioid prescribing guidelines to 16,000 healthcare providers citywide by mail and another 1,300 by direct, in-person outreach; and provided all Fire Department ambulances with “leave behind” naloxone (Narcan) to distribute after responding to overdose calls. In 2018, the City experienced an 8% reduction in fatal overdoses than in 2017, with the sharpest reductions occurring in the Kensington area.
Mission Area 6: Increase treatment options
National and Philadelphia data indicate that one in five people experience some form of mental illness and/or substance use disorder. In the area of opioid use disorder, the most effective treatment is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Since starting Resilience, the City has launched a Treatment Availability Database (TAD), which provides real-time information about availability of beds; made policy changes to increase MAT across the system; expanded “warm hand-offs” at hospitals, to help more people receive medical treatment and addiction services; contracted with First Step Staffing to connect individuals in recovery to entry-level employment; and created an EMS alternative response unit (AR-2), staffed by both paramedics and case managers to offer “warm hand-offs” after responding to an overdose.
Mission Area 7: Mobilize community resources
Recognizing that the City cannot do this work on its own, the Resilience team focused on engaging local residents and increasing access to resources. In addition to hosting monthly volunteer cleanups and weekly community meetings, the team has established a Community Advisory Committee to inform the work of the Resilience Project; recruited nearly 1,000 volunteers; hosted 25 community and civic meetings; and launched a dedicated bilingual Philly311 “pod” to resolve quality-of-life service requests faster.
“We started the Resilience Project because we knew the City needed to approach the opioid crisis and street homelessness in new, innovative ways,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “We needed to better understand the devastating impact drugs have on our communities, break down silos among City agencies, form new partnerships, and ensure residents are involved each step of the way. I’m proud of what’s been accomplished so far, and I believe the Resilience Project’s model is working. We have much more work ahead, but I’m confident that we will build on the significant foundation that’s been established and show exactly how resilient Philadelphians are.”
Led jointly by the Managing Director’s Office and the Office of Emergency Management, the Resilience Project implemented a recovery model to rebuild the Kensington/Fairhill area, which is most impacted by the opioid crisis.
According to Managing Director Brian Abernathy, “Hundreds of City employees, residents, partners, and other stakeholders have worked tirelessly over the last eight months on an issue that has impacted so many people. We approached this work in an unprecedented way to deliver City services more effectively and efficiently. We aimed to be compassionate and considerate of the needs of these diverse communities. Through this project, I can confidently say that the relationship between the City and Kensington residents has grown stronger. I look forward to continuing to work together to do much more through the extension of the executive order and dedicated funding.”
In addition, $36 million in new City funding has been dedicated to behavioral health, homeless, and community services in the City’s Five Year Plan (FY20-24). This funding will support homeless outreach, addiction treatment, recovery housing, and neighborhood community services to allow Kensington and other neighborhoods impacted by this crisis to recover.
Over the next six months, the City will continue working toward the goals of the seven mission areas, with an emphasis on:
- Working with the community and establishing cross-sector partnerships to sustain the Resilience Project beyond 2019.
- Raising public and private funding to leverage the City’s investment and support the work of community partners.
- Developing and implementing a three-year community and economic development plan for the Kensington/Fairhill area.
- Expanding successful aspects of the work into other neighborhoods with similar needs.
- Coordinating with the implementation of the Philadelphia Roadmap for Safer Communities, a citywide violence prevention strategy.
- Developing new strategies to disrupt the public sale and use of narcotics.
- Supporting the establishment of Overdose Prevention Sites.
- Reducing barriers to treatment as well as expanding access of medication assisted treatment (MAT) and “warm-offs.”
The full Philadelphia Resilience Project’s Progress Report and Executive Summary can be downloaded on phila.gov.