Eye of the needles: Used drug kits are everywhere in Kensington's McPherson Park

Torres displays a water bottle containing used drug-injecting paraphernalia that he collected near the library located in the park, in Kensington.
Torres displays a water bottle containing used drug-injecting paraphernalia that he collected near the library located in the park, in Kensington. (Photos: DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 26, 2011

A LACK OF interactive programs and waning community interest aren't the reasons why more people aren't visiting the McPherson Square Library and park, on Indiana Avenue near F Street.

Here's what's keeping them away, according to Kensington neighbors who attended a community meeting yesterday:

Open-air drug-dealing, junkies shooting up on park benches and dozens of used hypodermic needles scattered across the grounds of the nearly 95-year-old building.

"They own the park overnight and they don't care about other people using it," Phyllis Martino, of Impact Services, a community group, said of the dealers and addicts. "The drug-using community will have to share more nicely."

The Department of Parks and Recreation, along with community groups and nonprofit agencies, met with neighbors to figure out how to re-establish the library's role as a community gathering place, and to make the park more inviting.

No matter how many programs and special events are offered there, neighbors said, people are unlikely to take advantage of them unless the drug dealers and addicts are driven away.

"I had to stop somebody from openly injecting themself on the library steps yesterday," said Tessa Renshaw, a community-outreach manager with Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

A youth mentor walked into yesterday afternoon's meeting at the library holding a dirty plastic bottle that he said he'd picked up on his way in. The bottle was filled with used needles.

"I got pricked, but I didn't get no blood," said Mike Torres, of Men in Motion in the Community. "This is what we have to be careful of."

The meeting was the first in a series of planned discussions among city agencies, nonprofits and neighbors over how to rejuvenate the area.

Barbara McCabe, of Parks and Recreation, asked neighbors what programs they'd like at the library and in the park. But the discussion returned to the issue of safety and ridding the park of drug-dealing and drug use.

"The police are not there," said Amy Dougherty, director of Friends of the Free Library. "That's a big problem, a big concern."

Some attendees asked why police were not at the meeting, and why an officer could not be assigned to patrol the park

"When we have the resources available to us, we get them out there," Capt. Thomas Davidson, who oversees the 24th District, said by phone afterward. McCabe said that Parks and Rec did not reach out to police for this meeting, but would do so in the future. Neighbors said that cops could do more to patrol the park to move drug dealers and addicts away. Davidson acknowledged the park's history of drug problems. He said that it is difficult to keep tabs on it because narcotics complaints are common throughout the district.

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