But last Monday night, in the dark and with a flashlight, a cop with the Norfolk Southern Corp., which co-owns Conrail, told the homeless that they had to leave the next day or risk arrest.
So, they dragged their tents across Richmond Street, near Cumberland, to a paved lot under the I-95 overpass, where they had stayed since Tuesday.
Since then, this group of homeless people has banded together, forming a small community. Over the past few days, tension has risen at times with Port Richmond neighbors. But there have also been supporters.
Ideally, someone would lend some land where the homeless could build simple homes and a garden to sustain themselves, said Paul Klemmer, 53, one of the homeless, as he stood under the overpass yesterday.
Klemmer, who has carpentry skills, said that with "so many buildings slated for demolition, we could take them apart for free" and use the materials instead of having the stuff go to landfills.
"We're pretty functional to create our own small community," he said. The paved lot with 21 tents, a few used for supplies, was very clean yesterday.
Klemmer said that the group has been sweeping the lot, putting their garbage in trash bags, and that friends in the neighborhood have put the bags on street curbs for pickup by trash collectors.
And the homeless have a tent with a "potty chamber." They have been burying their waste in the old rail yard across the street.
Gene Blaum, PennDOT spokesman, said yesterday that department officials, accompanied by city and state police, were at the site Saturday morning handing out letters informing of a 48-hour eviction notice. PennDOT is responsible for any land under the interstate. The eviction notice says that the homeless are "trespassing" and "pose a safety hazard" to motorists and "to themselves by exposure to any debris that may fall from the highway."
Yesterday, Pat McDonough, 43, who lived in Port Richmond until moving to Northeast Philly two months ago, came to the site with two friends bringing pumpkin and coconut pies, veggie soup, and bread and butter. "Not everyone in the community is against them being here," she said.
Pastors Joshua Gale and Art Boone, of Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, have brought food, clothing and blankets over the past few days.
And Tricia Shore, a Quaker, has been working to try to find a place where they can go next.
She said last night that people with the Occupy Philadelphia Interfaith Working Group are looking into temporarily providing a sanctuary for the homeless on church land or in church buildings. And she has been sending a letter written by Klemmer on behalf of the homeless to Mayor Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and other officials, all in the hope of finding a permanent solution.