[OP-ED]: Cleaning The ‘Heroin Hell’ Will Not Create Heaven In Surrounding Communities
The recent announcement that City Hall and Conrail cut a deal to cleanup the notorious heroin corridor along a section of railroad track running through Philadelphia’s Fairhill and West Kensington communities is welcomed removal of a dangerous blight that’s festered for nearly two decades.
Credit those local officials responsible for moving City Hall and Conrail to finally address cleansing this area filled with an estimated 500,000 discarded needles used for injecting drugs, where last year at least 17 persons died from drug overdoses.
This cleanup also includes removal of a shantytown housing upwards of one hundred hardcore drug addicts.
Sure, it might be purely coincidental that the long-stalled negotiations between City Hall and Conrail over responsibilities related to the cleanup reached actionable agreement in the wake of increasing, image-damaging media attention on this misery-radiating location that popular TV-personality Dr. Oz dubbed “Hell on Earth” during a tour of that filth-filled half-mile long trench earlier this year.
But whatever the reason for this overdue cleanup, recognize the reality that removing the huge amounts of waste that fills this area – while welcome – is simply a small step that will do little to substantively address the larger societal issues driving deeper problems in Fairhill and West Kensington. This cleanup addresses symptoms not causes.
Yes, the scourge from drugs is not a problem exclusive to Philadelphia’s West Kensington. Drugs cause chaos in New Kensington, a small ‘Rust Belt’ town near Pittsburgh, Pa. And drugs are an issue in the Kensington neighborhood of Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.
Yet, wherever there is a major drug problem there are usually high levels of poverty, unemployment and under-education.
The poverty rate in Fairhill is nearly 63 percent with unemployment arching above 26 percent coupled and nearly half of the residents have not completed a high school education.
Similar statistics are evident in West Kensington where the rate of poverty is nearly 47 percent; unemployment hovers north of 19 percent and almost 37 percent of the residents have not completed a high school education.
Cleaning discarded needles, tires, construction debris and junkies from the heroin corridor will end the blight in that trench but will not address the blight of structural impoverishment in surrounding neighborhoods.
New approaches to fighting drugs are long overdue. And, this means more than more police and more prison cells – the standard approaches that have not squelched the drug problem in Philadelphia’s so-called ‘Badlands’ where this notorious heroin corridor is located.
In the early 1990s a federally funded study on drug usage in Philadelphia, that tested urine samples from persons arrested in this city, made a startling discovery ignored by police and the press.
The racial/gender group that tested the highest for use of heroin` in Philadelphia back then was white women, not blacks or Latinos. However, at that time, law enforcement was mired in outrageous racist profiling that targeted non-whites…thus giving a pass to a major part of the largest heroin.
Addressing symptoms allows causes to fester…out of control.