Kensington, Filadelfia PA. Abril 2023. (Foto: Crédito/Impacto Staff)

On a nice Spring-like Thursday evening, April 10, 2023, a couple of hundred of voters attended a Mayoral Forum organized by Esperanza, ranked amongst one of the most influential non-profit organizations providing various services to Latinos and others throughout the city.  The organization, located in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of Hunting Park, was co-founded by Reverend Luis Cortes, who has served as President and CEO of Esperanza and has touched the lives of many living in poverty by giving them a place to turn to for assistance associated to their subordinate position in Philadelphia where the formula for diversity and inclusion is usually limited to Black and White.

The growing Latino and Asian communities are typically ignored or underserved unless they are wealthy. Esperanza also provides housing assistance, K-12 education, an accredited bachelor’s degree program, meeting space for community meetings, and facilitates a program that helps young people learn their history and cultural roots, and during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Esperanza provided testing and vaccines to residents.

The Forum was moderated by Ilia Garcia, a popular television Anchor for Univision 65, an affiliate of 6ABC, and Perla Lara, Editor in Chief of Impacto Newspaper. Ceiba Latino Equitable Development Collective collaborated with Esperanza’s efforts. The mayoral candidates who participated were Democrats Warren Bloom, Jeff Brown, James DeLeon, Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker, Rebecca Rhynhart, and Republican David Oh. The candidates, five of whom are virtually tied in the polls, took turns answering questions from Garcia and Lara on issues of concern to Latinos.

While sitting through the length of the forum listening to each candidate respond to the questions, the one question that received gasps and cheers from the audience was the one about Safe Injection Sites. Three top-tier candidates: Allan Domb, Jeff Brown, and Cherelle Parker, were adamant in voicing their opposition. After concluding the lively forum, I mingled with the attendees and the candidates.

Maria Gonzalez, a young mother of two elementary school kids, told me she attended the forum to learn the candidates’ position on the cesspool that the intersection of Kensington and Allegheny has become for drug addicts, prostitution, and violence.

Gonzalez moved her family near that intersection 15 years ago to escape the open-air corner drug dealing in her old Hunting Park neighborhood. «I felt trapped and scared for my kids by drug-related shootings and murders. My children and I had to see drug dealers standing on corners working in shifts taking up neighbor’s parking spaces, using vulgar language, and leaving trash all over the streets», she said.

Fifteen years after moving to Kensington, she now feels trapped in a neighborhood ravaged by the opioids and homeless crisis the situation at Kensington and Allegheny has created. Initially, she regularly called the police to help drug users in distress but stopped as she realized the once safe and clean neighborhood was rapidly changing for the worse. Efforts to establish “Safe Injection Sites” have faced fierce opposition from thousands of South Philly residents, in Kensington and other neighborhoods in Philadelphia’s 7th Councilmanic district.

For many years, Latinos and African Americans have raised concerns that the neighborhoods they share east of Broad Street have become t0o-convenient locations for halfway houses, homeless shelters, and addiction programs that other communities keep out. Another Kensington resident I spoke with said, “We need to take a page from South Philly and stop imposing a Safe Injection Site, where souls addicted to opioids will be allowed to shoot up their drugs under the care of a tax-funded medical professional.”

Whomever voters pick in the May 16, Democratic and Republican primaries will determine if Philadelphians accommodate drug-addicted folks, the majority of whom are from outside the city, to shoot their drugs in neighborhoods that are already inflicted by recurring open-air drug dealing, serious quality of life issues and deteriorating and gentrifying Latino and African American neighborhoods. Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh are strong opponents of these Safe Injection Sites in Philadelphia. 


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