At Second and Cambria Streets, the neighbors waiting to pick up their kids outside Sheppard Elementary School haven't read the newspaper stories about the horrific opioid "gulch" a block away.
They've been living the stories.
The gulch is a half-mile gorge cut by a Conrail line that runs through Kensington and Fairhill, where tens of thousands of used syringes cover the ground.
While officials gather in Center City conference rooms to discuss what to do about the hundreds of addicts shooting up next to those sunken tracks, parents roll their eyes when asked what they think.
Rochele Santiago, 25, a stay-at-home mom, says, "My kids see people injecting themselves. It's kind of hard to explain to kids what they're doing. It's not right."
She is tired of all the "innocent kids being killed" and wants to "move somewhere you don't see no kind of guns and drugs."
Angel Fuentes, a 20-year-old landscaper who was picking up his younger sister, concurs. The area has "lots of killings," he says. "You see needles, people injecting themselves. Kids can't play outside because the streets aren't safe." He's saving to move to Boston.
Wanda Vega, 47, waiting to pick up her granddaughter, says the neighborhood isn't safe, but she can't move "because I don't have the money to buy a house."
You don't have to strain your eyes to understand what they are talking about. On the corner of Hope Street and Cambria, a couple of car lengths from where relatives wait for school to let out, a young man in gray sweats is unsteadily picking through drug detritus in a grate at the curb, a long syringe in his free hand.
These three local residents and others list two things that would immediately make a difference: more police and cleaning up the trash-choked streets. The only person who mentioned finding beds for the drug users camping in the gulch suggested prison beds. No one suggested locating an indoor injection site nearby.
Instead of focusing on the addicts, what would it be like to focus on the parents and children in the neighborhood as if everyone reading this were living there, too? If we really cared about the kids in Fairhill and the hardworking relatives trying to protect them, what are some options? After talking to the neighbors, a few ideas come to mind.
Call President Trump. He promised in last month's address to Congress, "Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop." He also said, "Every American child should be able to grow up in a safe community." Ask him for help. So what if he tends to like police? Bill Clinton started the successful "COPS" program that funded more police for Philadelphia, which, in turn, helped bring down the city's crime rates in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And, would it hurt the immortal soul of the city if we turned over drug-dealing illegals to ICE?
Relocate the addicts. Move them from the train-track gulch to the Wissahickon "gulch" next to the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. If a couple of hundred users suddenly showed up in that beautiful area, I'm guessing the residents would not demand a multi-month task force to study the problem. There are lots of therapists and caring professionals of all stripes living there and in next-door Mount Airy. They would certainly figure out a model for humanely dealing with the situation. For example, they might ask Chestnut Hill's major landlord, Richard Snowden, to offer a Germantown Avenue building for the safe-injection station.
Sanctuary. Many suburban churches and synagogues are eager to welcome people fleeing war. Instead, why not have them reach out to families that want to escape this drug war zone? Could they help find apartments or homes in Bryn Mawr, Blue Bell, Malvern, and other safe places with good schools and plenty of jobs?
Council to the rescue. If, as city officials keep saying, we don't have enough police to keep the peace, how about the city officials lend a hand? Let City Council members set up their offices on the corner of Hope and Cambria for a couple of days. They'd get to see what's doing, and the local drug pushers would get a day without customers. Instead of the Task Force chatting about the problem downtown, let members convene on the Sheppard School playground.
Volunteer. Perhaps the easiest thing would be to volunteer at Sheppard School. The Philly Pops already offers a music program in the sweet little school, whose energetic young principal, Marisol Rodriguez, also works with student teachers from Penn State. She welcomes additional assistance or volunteers.
Helping the neighbors doesn't mean ignoring the addicts who are making lives a living hell. It's a disease we have to treat. When we call on Trump for help in ending the scourge of drugs, we should also ask him to honor his other pledge to "expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted."
However, we shouldn't have to wait for a comprehensive cure for every addict before helping families raise their children in peace today.
Signe Wilkinson is the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist for the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. firstname.lastname@example.org