Philly Rising & Kensington Clean-Up
Jim Smith/El Hispano
Philadelphia – Sporting orange flak jackets in lieu of superhero capes, Nydia Flores, Elvis Rosado and Francis O’Neill are routinely saving lives and helping to make streets safe for Philadelphians.
On Monday morning, Nydia Flores and Francis O’Neill were turning the corner of Kensington and Lehigh, Monday morning, when they noticed a man slumped over behind Lucky’s Cheesesteaks. “I knew he was having a problem,” said Flores. “When I went over to see, he just fell down.”
An apparent victim of an overdose, Flores immediately made sure the man was breathing fine and called for assistance. Both veterans of the “Prevention Point” community organization that serves this neighborhood with a variety of drug counseling and treatment programs, Flores withdrew medications to respond to an emergency situation that she says occurs “too regularly” in Kensington.
Francis O’Neill noted that Ms. Flores quickly sedated the man by giving the recommended “naloxone and narcan.”
According to a recent Drexel University study some 425,000 people use a syringe to inject illicit drugs each year in the United States and 16,000 die from overdoses. In 2008 -the most recent data available- 442 Philadelphians died of drug overdoses.
The Drexel study further notes that the majority of such overdose victims are found in the “street,” 75 percent are male and in less than 10 percent of the cases do those coming to the aid of the individual have training and are carrying naloxone.
After this intervention at Kensington and Lehigh, Flores and O’Neill proceeded to the corner of Front Street where they met Elvis Rosado, a Case Manager at Prevention Point. Rosado, Flores and O’Neill were scheduled to participate in a neighborhood beautification effort, leading a group of students from across the country in a three-hour clean-up blitz under the aegis of Philly Rising.
Philly Rising is an initiative spearheaded by Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin, which targets neighborhoods besieged by chronic crime, abandoned properties, litter and other quality of life issues. Philly Rising brought together nearly 40 students from the City Year program – ranging in age from 17 to 24 – as well as volunteers from the New Kensington Community Development Corporation and Prevention Point.
“We’re out here in this neighborhood every day” Ms. Flores told the student clean-up crew, cautioning them to avoid “picking up needles” they were likely to find in the street.
As El trains passed above, brigades of students pushed brooms and scooped plastic bottles and cigarette butts with coal-shovels along a beleaguered swath of Front and Kensington Ave. A desultory crowd of men and women watched the clean-up from the shade of an Alcoholics Anonymous Center that stands opposite the St. Francis Inn, a Franciscan Center which provides meals and shelter to more than 200 recovering addicts and alcoholics in a neighborhood that once boasted tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
Ms. Flores praised the efforts of Philly Rising, “They make it possible for families to feel safe about bringing their kids outside. They’re turning the badlands into goodlands.”
Watching from the entrance of her Kensington Avenue business as a dozen students collected and bagged neighborhood litter, Alice Aikens, a longtime store owner voiced admiration: “I wouldn’t do that,” referring to the potential to come across discarded drug paraphernalia. “I just kick ‘em in the sewer.”
Despite facing the prospect of working three hours in the afternoon heat , Toto Milagro, 18, a first-time member of City Year and California native was enthused about the work: “It’s a great way to get to know the neighborhoods of the city and beautify the community.”
Milagro added that he was looking forward to eventually work with local students and “encourage those students with low morale.”
While acknowledging the upcoming visit of Pope Francis could bring a focus on the city’s 25 percent poverty rate, Joanna Winchester, the Economic Development Director of New Kensington Community Development Corporation was doubtful he would notice this section of the city: “I don’t think the Pope will stop here.”