2012-05-03 / Local & State

Philly-area Homeless Camp Residents Told To Leave

BRISTOL, Pa. (AP) –Residents of a suburban Philadelphia homeless camp have been told to leave before bulldozers and backhoes arrive to begin dismantling their homes in a few days to make way for a new warehouse, but some say they aren't convinced that the demolition will happen

Phil “Papa Bear” DiNardo and others have been told to Bucks County's oldest and largest homeless camp before Tuesday, but he says the Lord is telling him something different.

“I ain’t gonna give it up,” he told the Bucks County Courier Times last week. “Jesus is telling me to wait.”

Other residents say they've heard the same warning every month for the last two years, and they're not buying it now, even after an industrial-size trash bin appeared recently outside the encampment.

Police Chief Arnold Porter, however, said property owner JRZ, LLC intends to bring heavy construction equipment onto the 23-acre site to start excavating for the planned 253,000-square foot warehouse, which was approved in 2005.

Local churches, homeless advocates and social service agencies have been trying to relocate residents and get them social services, drug or alcohol treatment.

Don Richards, a member of the Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need, said a local faith-based group called “ The Way Home” hopes to provide subsidized housing for four people at a time, but he doesn't know what will happen to other residents.

Keith Smothers, a case manager with Penndel Mental Health, said a Philadelphia homeless shelter offered to take some men, but no one wanted to relocate.

“This time it's pretty serious. I think some folks are waiting to see what will happen before they move,” Smothers added. “They will stay there until they actually see someone come in and raise the place. I guess we'll be there to pick up the pieces.”

Tent City, as it's come to be known, has quietly existed on and off for at least 20 years in woods next to Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol. Officials started looking for the property's owner in 2010 after the hospital cited concerns about the safety of patients and employees.

The residents live in camping tents or large wood or tarp-covered structures, using propane-fueled heaters and stoves. Most said they rely on disability checks, charity, and scavenging nearby shopping center trash bins. Officials say many have mental or physical disabilities, chronic health problems or substance abuse issues.

Diane and Jim told the paper they moved into the encampment after being evicted from a Bristol Township apartment, unable to pay the rent although she has subsidized housing. Social workers took her three girls – ages 14, 12 and 7 – into foster care, Diane said. They slept in his car before ending up in the camp and plan to remain until Tuesday, although their belongings will be packed, just in case, he said.

Dinardo, 63, a resident for three years, said he previously rented a motel room and before that lived in his car for seven years. But he says he's now too old and sick to pack up his life again. If the bulldozers come on Tuesday, he plans to take what he can carry but worries that he'll have to leave behind the collection of religious objects and Bibles in his tent.

Some people have already moved on, he said – most taking their tents deeper into the woods.

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