The piles of waste in the form of used needles not only make up the majority of the trash in Gurney street, but are a key component to keeping the area’s drug use alive. Photo: Yesid Vargas / AL DÍA News.
In one of Philadelphia’s major arteries along the Market-Frankford line lies what addicts in the area have come to know as a second home. Amongst piles of used syringes and baggies, one can find couches, dining room furniture, and full-length mirrors, just enough to turn what has been deemed a ‘heroin hellscape' into a home.
During an extended excursion into the heart of Philadelphia’s heroin problem, AL DIA News took a look at just how much progress has been made in cleaning up the drug paradise.
Less than 10 days before the July 31st deadline proposed by Conrail and the City of Philadelphia to clean up the area, the heart of the Gurney Street train tracks looks pretty undisturbed.
While above ground children can be seen running through water spouting from a broken fire hydrant - the closest thing that some come to a pool in the city during the summer - men and women of varying ages could be seen scurrying down hills of dirt, needles, and trash, to the tracks below.
But despite the debris and smell of garbage, the makeshift apartment homes that begin around 2nd Street are surrounded by rows of trees, views of the city, and graffiti functioning as artwork.
Though the structures may not last - a policeman reported there was once a two level structure built in the area - they are no less impressive providing the addicts shelter during their visit to the underground.
But how much life is left in the pits of Gurney street?
On June 15, Mayor James F. Kenney signed an agreement with Conrail committing to totally cleanup and close off the area, including everything from the removal of the budding vegetation to the tons of needles located at the site.
Though claims of existing fencing being in place are in the agreement, AL DIA traveled to the tracks easily and saw others visit the site without issue.
The lack of protection is showing Conrail coming up short in the agreement as they were instructed to “Repair existing fencing (already underway) and install fencing in any gaps (similar to fencing currently installed around Love Park) coextensive and in conjunction with cleanup efforts” in the agreement.
From the looks of the area, much of what Conrail was assigned to do has not yet begun and local police have been forced regularly visit and remove users who are looking to get their fix in Philly’s hub for opioid drugs.
In fact, the problem of the needles is so serious that the those looking to make some quick can or find a way to support their habit, can visit the underpass and collect needles to turn into the local needle exchange program for clean needles.
And though the prevention of the spread of disease is the goal, police reported that many come to Gurney Street, collect roughly 200 needles a day and find a way to make close to $200 in cash to support their habit without fail.
If Conrail is to complete their charge as described in the agreement to, “Conduct a topical removal of needles in the areas of greatest concentration, including around the bridge overpasses and handle disposal,” half of Gurney streets activity could drastically cut down.
Though we reached out to Conrail and the City of Philadelphia for an update on the progress of the cleanup, neither was available to explain the stall in shutting down Philly’s heroin hub.