The Nation

A Movement for Housing Justice Is Camped Out on Philly Streets

Activists gather to protect encampments and demand that the city transfer buildings to a community land trust.

Read the full piece in The Nation

On the morning of September 9, close to 200 people gathered at the intersection of 22nd Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia and clustered between a group of police officers and city liaisons and a multicolored sprawl of dozens of camping tents. It was supposed to be eviction day for the James Talib-Dean Encampment for Permanent Equal Housing, or Camp JTD, a site for the homeless and for protest, and these encampment residents, activists, organizers, and supporters were not going to let that happen.

The camp’s protectors positioned barricades around the entrance to the encampment, and at around 9 AM—the City-imposed deadline to vacate—they held a press conference. Still wearing her protective goggles, Tanya Scott addressed reporters. “I don’t understand why [the city is] trying to remove us,” she said, explaining that she had experienced homelessness on and off for four years. “What are we doing that’s so wrong? Are we invading your home? Are we disturbing your peace, your privacy? These people don’t have privacy.”

She gestured to the crowd behind her. “This is more than just Black Lives Matter. You got homeless people, you got LGBTQ, you got the whole motherfuckin’ nation out here. This to us, this is our family.”

The presence of so many people apparently spooked the police. Officers left that morning, giving little indication of what they planned to do about the eviction order. Organizers assumed they would return later that night, or perhaps early the next morning, so they urged those not residing at the camp to stay, or to come and go in shifts to ensure a constant, sizable assembly. They were determined to preserve the space.

For Philadelphia, Camp JTD is where long-brewing, overlapping crises—the Covid-19 crisis, police brutality, and a lack of affordable and public housing—have boiled over. It’s where years of housing rights activism and the energy of the ongoing protest movement against racism and policing have united. In JTD, the city’s poor, homeless, young, Black, and left have found a way to physically resist the violent systems they experience and decry.

“We’re not going anywhere,” said Scott.


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