The police and the garbage trucks and the city officials arrived early on eviction day at the heroin encampment under the Tulip Street train tunnel. Jason Carmine and his father, Kevin, began to pack up their makeshift hut.
Originally from New Castle County, Del., father and son had lived there for the last two months, alongside 40 other people in the tunnel. There, where they got high, Jason had saved his father’s life with two doses of Narcan. There, they assured each other at night that things would get better. “Because, God willing,” Jason told him, “it can’t get any worse.”
Now the garbage trucks were idling, and Jason stuffed their belongings — two blankets, two pillows, four pairs of pants, four shirts, and a pair of sandals — into one of the blue crates the city had handed out. The Carmines would have to leave behind a queen mattress someone had donated.
“This is all we can carry,” said Kevin, with white hair and tattoos of his late wife’s name on his neck. Blood speckled his jeans and his sneakers from a wound on his arm. He said he had been using drugs all of Jason’s life.
Jason, at 36 gaunt and already graying, said he had been addicted to heroin for 14 years. His two children live with other family. He came to Kensington with a promise of a landscaping job, and when the job fell through, he stayed for the heroin.
His father, 58, had left for Kensington four weeks before he did. It had been months since Jason had heard from him when he limped into the camp a few days after Jason got there.
“I was happy, because I found out my dad wasn’t dead or anything,” he said.
Father and son made a place for themselves on Tulip Street. Jason cobbled together a hut from pallets and tarps, pulled the mattress inside, and set a chair out front. “It sucked living down there,” Jason said. “But in the worst kind of storms, we were OK.”
And now a sanitation worker was stuffing their home into the grinder of a garbage truck, and Jason and Kevin were carrying their crate down Somerset Street to find somewhere new to land. “Under a new bridge,” Kevin cracked.
They trudged toward Kensington Avenue. A group of kids on the corner lobbed fireworks into the street. Jason flinched and mentioned the time gunfire rang out in the tunnel a few nights before, and the time someone threw a bottle at him while he panhandled on Lehigh Avenue. They passed some construction workers who stared in confusion and a little disgust.
They passed the Frankford Avenue encampment, and the Emerald Street one, both swelling with the stragglers from the other camps. They neared the remnants of the Kensington Avenue camp, where there were a protest on the corner and news cameras everywhere.
Some of the protesters shouted for the camps to remain until the city could provide housing and a safe injection site. The night before, neighbors across the street and even some who had lost children to overdoses said they felt for people like Jason and Kevin but could no longer tolerate the camps in their neighborhood.
And now the last remnants of two camps were unmoored and on the move, even as dozens more people went inside or into treatment. Jason and his father talked of the future, and of their hopes. Jason talked of his kids, and his shame at leaving them, and how he worried about dying and leaving them forever.
He clung to the words he’d written on the sign he held at the I-95 ramp: “I will work for my money.”
He knew what the neighborhood thought of him. He didn’t want to be a blight.
He hopes to qualify next Monday for a 30-day treatment program. Kevin isn’t sure there’s much hope left for himself, but he wants his son to get well. To get out. “He can’t handle any fentanyl,” he said.
Before any of that, they needed to find a new place. And they had one in mind. Somewhere quiet, past the I-95 overpass and the strip malls on Aramingo, behind the hulking warehouses, in a grassy, open field by the river. There they would spread their blankets and maybe build a new hut, and try to ride out one more storm.