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Sixty-year-old Melvin Honesty was born and raised in Philadelphia and now calls the streets of Kensington his home. His usual hangout is below the neighborhood’s Market-Frankford El–a place overridden with drugs and prostitution.
“A camera is more dangerous than a gun around here,” said Honesty. “You have to watch where you point that thing because everyone is looking.”
And Honesty was right. Once I reached the corner of Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street, a corner notorious for its drug deals, a man ratted me out for having a camera. “Everybody stop. She’s got a camera. Everybody stop.” Once Melvin shouted out to fellow addicts that I was actually with him and that I was “okay,” business went on as usual.
Walking just a few blocks with Honesty, it was easy to tell that most locals know him by name. A neighborhood being held back by drugs and prostitution is also a neighborhood where it is easy to make friends.
Thirty-four-year-old Molly is a friend of Melvin’s and also a local among these blocks under the El. Her last name is left out due to being caught in the midst of it all. “The neighborhood isn’t all bad. A lot of street justice happens here and most of us look out for each other,” said Molly. Within minutes she confessed she has been using on and off for the past 10 years and her primary drugs of choice are heroin and cocaine. “Drugs rule the neighborhood. You’re either an addict or an ex-addict.”
Molly grew up in Colts Neck, N.J., but found herself in Kensington after a six-month stay in jail in 2000. Her soon-to-be ex-husband was also sent to prison because of drugs and her son now lives in Roxborough with his grandmother. “It was the hardest thing to do, to give up that 7-year-old. But I’m not going to be selfish. I want him to have a good life. I’m working towards it too.”
Although these few blocks under the El may arguably be the worst in the city, the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t follow this trend. Some blocks, especially those bordering Fishtown and Port Richmond, feel as if they are worlds away. These blocks hold the promise of progress. A promise of new development, new business and new faces.
Jeannette Negron and other employees at Giamari Furniture & Bedding believe the key to fixing the neighborhood is to eliminate the vast amounts of vacant businesses. The furniture store is also known as Interior Furniture and is located just under the El at Kensington Avenue and Hagert Street. With a pink gorilla handing out promotional fliers in the middle of the avenue, it’s hard not to wonder what else is inside.
See the video below for more details.
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