How Did This Happen? A Documentary About Kensington, Philadelphia (2023)


Is this massive drug and homeless problem reversible?
Kensington has been in the spotlight for many years due to its high levels crime and poverty.
Amazing thumbnail photos by JEFFREY STOCKBRIDGE and Jonathan Elderfield

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Thank you.

So we are all aware of the drug epidemic going on throughout the U.S.

We are seeing the complete degradation of society, lots of rampant drug use.

We see it happening in parts of Seattle and Portland San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the list goes on and on and of course, right up with those cities is the infamous Kensington Philadelphia.

So what is going on here in Kensington? How have things gotten this bad, this widespread crime, virtually Lawless streets, record unemployment and a completely wide open drug Market? Why did it happen here? Why is it so concentrated in this area and when did all this start wow foreign? So this is modern, Kensington Philadelphia.

This is this.

Is the Modern Age.

This is what is happening down here on an everyday basis.

Like you just said, it looks like a third world country garbage needles everywhere, garbage everywhere.

What happened to this place? Why is Kensington specifically so bad, and is it even reversible or is it possible I, don't know myself and journey with Jay have been coming down here a lot over the course of this past year.

Yes, many times you know just talking to people and exploring different areas and seeing what was going on and so we've compiled both of us I've compiled all kinds of crazy footage that we're gonna show you we're going to show you what it's like here, you're going to be blown away by this stuff, brilliant, an out of control situation, drugs, crime, poverty, life in Kensington is not easy or safe, but it wasn't always like this.

Back in the day, there was an economic boom in Philly with the textile and carpet manufacturing, just to name a couple and people came to fill the need for workers in those factories, and it was a real Melting Pot of working-class citizens.

But a downturn in manufacturing happened here in the 60s and 70s, and those employment needs soon dried up.

In fact, by 1975 about 75 percent of those industrial jobs and businesses were gone, moved away or simply went out of business and then came the poverty, the drugs, the crime, the 1970s.

It was speed and cocaine sold by City gangs and supplied by the mafia.

The 1980s was the crack epidemic and the 1990s came the heroin craze, a high Purity snortable heroine flowed into this area and took over the drugs and violent crime grew like a cancer, and of course that didn't just happen here.

It was happening all over the country, but for Kensington it was the combination of mass unemployment and endless supply of abandoned houses and buildings to live in and use as drug houses.

It was a perfect storm.

Kensington became a virtual Lawless drug Paradise for those who partook and into the 2000s the pain pill epidemic opioids as it was becoming famous for its Lawless open-air drug Market, and you will find everyone down here.

All walks of life, kids, parents, fathers, mothers and it's a dangerous area plagued with crime, drug dealers, drug users, sex workers, thieves looking to take advantage of anyone at any time.

Yes, life in Kensington definitely comes with a price.

What's your view on the on how Philadelphia is handling uh, the epidemic and everything ridiculous that the city lets us go on? Just like I mean come on the police.

They don't really do anything as far as like.

Oh go: open drug use, they don't arrest you nothing and really.

If you get um arrested for buying drugs, they just take you down to the um Precinct and let you go wow now yeah.

They used to arrest you, but now they, if you're, a buyer.

They just like talk to you about like getting into rehab and stuff okay, and then they let you go gotcha so and how are things on the street six years compared to now? Um, it's gone a lot worse, a lot worse endemic! It's been crazy out here of the shootings and not that long ago the nine people got shot.

I mean people just randomly are shooting like during the day 10 o'clock in the morning.

It's crazy wow.

They don't care my girlfriend just got killed at the park.

Uh like Fourth of July weekend.

She got hit by a stray bullet.

She was and she was just getting her apartment and going to rehab like the next day, her and her boyfriend and she got hit.

One bullet killed her.

So I've lost a lot of people.

I've been I know.

A lot of people have died.

Foreign foreign, so this is McPherson Square.

Most people just know this the park as the the center of everything, but it's a whole area.

It's probably 10 blocks of um.

Well, it's more than 10 blocks with a concentrated 10 blocks of lots of drug use along Kensington Ave, especially, but you know, a lot of these streets are really not good.

So, oddly enough in the center of McPherson Square is the Free Library of Philadelphia I, don't know! If anybody even goes to this I mean it's.

You have to literally walk through the crowd of drug users to get in here and yet even crazier than that is that there is a playground just behind the library the children who grew up here are exposed to this environment.

They see it and they hear it every day of their lives.

There was a changeover at some point where the heroine really became more fentanyl.

Now, there's this stuff uh.

Well, they call it trank and it's uh I think it's called xylazine.

It's it's basically like a horse tranquilizer, it's not really made for a human consumption, but for some reason it's it's in the drugs here and um.

That's what gives people they get, these really nasty, open, sores, and it's from that from that xylazine.

So you see a lot of that down here, those sores and everything.

It's really sad, all right! So I'm going to take you over to see if there's any sex workers out right now show you what that looks like over there there's a sex worker about to get in.

You can see your feet standing there at the passenger side door, probably discussing how much money yep now she's getting in a lot of prostitutes down in this street this this area here this strip now they're pulling off a lot of these girls out here are like have been doing it since they were like 12 13 years old, I've, seen them with their mothers too.

How does that work? They're, just they're both working out here, his mother I mean a daughter and a father.

Also the father was like waiting for his daughter to get back from a date.

Wow, that's crazy.

Uh! This one's been circling my car, a bunch, but I am not interested in such activities foreign.

So this is not far from Kensington Ave.

This is actually Lehigh and from what I read, this was really where everybody was living and then at some point the city came down came in and they they cleaned this all out from what I read it was they forcibly removed everyone out of here cleaned all the tents out, all the mattresses, everything and um? As a result, they all moved up just a couple blocks over and now they're, basically all around that that main Park, the one that's nicknamed needle Park now to be clear, I believe this happened in 2017.

The problem with homeless addicts on the streets has been ongoing for long before that decades before that yeah someone's living room, but this was a huge influx of homeless living on the streets living under the bridges on those streets.

Oh yeah they're all over the place here, outdoor living, oh jeez, so as Jay was pointing out, the sound you're hearing are Scrappers that are up on the bridge and they they go and they steal whatever they can find fans or whatever somebody leaves outside or in their garage and then they bring it down here and they rip it all apart.

The scrapping place is right here, so they just like rip all apart up on the bridge and then they throw all the plastic down off the bridge.

Occasionally it gets set on fire too.

But what that all is foreign, it's crazy.

This was a street that not too long ago was filled with homeless people.

And what happens is the police come through and they clean them all out, but they don't.

Obviously the garbage doesn't get cleaned out.

So then, there's just tons and tons of rats and small animals eating all the feces and food.

That's left behind I, don't know where these people go, I, think I.

Guess they just move on.

It's it's a lot colder.

Now that I was here.

So this is we're going on through the months here now, it's winter time, I've been here in the spring the summer and the fall I, don't know what happens I.

Guess they just kind of find warmth wherever they can another huge Factor as to why the Kensington area is in the state that it's in is this at one time in this area, the textile and the steel industry was booming and a lot of people that lived in the Kensington area worked in these factories worked in these buildings and when these businesses dried up or moved away, this is what's left is people they didn't have jobs, I mean that's a that's one of the factors, there's obviously other factors, but that's definitely a huge one.

There's a lot of this in this area.

How are things at night here compared to the daytime um? It's really scary.

At night time, I try to stay out at nighttime, although there's more money at night.

So what are you doing to kind of protect yourself from that um I? Just try to stick with people that I know: okay, yeah, so kind of keep your wits about you and yeah.

Don't really go with strangers, making a bad feeling just get out of the car yeah yeah.

Indeed, nighttime is a completely different animal here, like most crime-ridden areas, things get more dangerous under the cover of Darkness gone are the everyday citizens and business owners and what's left, are miscreants homeless.

People that are just up to no good carjackings and muggings are definitely more prevalent here at night and people that live in this area try to stay inside when the Sun goes down, because you never know what could be lurking around the corner and it's not fun driving around here at night, but I at least wanted to give you a feel for it a sense of what it's like driving around here after hours, um I, just I think this is like pretty much ground.

Zero They Don't Care About Us down here at all um there's, so many people with diseases and I I mean, but at the same time they enable it yeah I want to go, get help.

They have everything right here.

Yeah they get out samples on time, yeah like they don't need to go they're, not hitting their rock bottom, and you kind of need that to get out right.

You know like if you're not hanging around my bottom, if you're not desperate, you're, not going to see that this [ __ ].

So what is the future for Kensington? Is there even a light at the end of this dark tunnel? There have been many attempts by the city's government to turn things around over the years.

New policies, millions of dollars and good intentions have all failed and that's not to say that there aren't countless organizations and volunteers working down here and any given day.

There are mobile dentists down here and doctors.

There are people, cleaning, the streets, handing out blankets and clothing, there's even a questionable weekly needle exchange here.

That many argue is only enabling the problem, but clearly it's not going to reverse or fix what is happening here.

It's Band-Aids over bullet wounds, really the Badlands as sometimes Kensington is referred to.

Maybe there isn't a way to fix this.

For now.

Kensington remains a sad and dangerous place and it probably will be many years to come.


What happened in Kensington Avenue Philadelphia? ›

The shooting happened on the 2800 block of Kensington Avenue just before 1:45 p.m. A 20-year-old man was shot multiple times and killed, authorities said.

What is the show about Kensington in Philadelphia? ›

Crisis in Kensington: Documenting America's largest open-air drug market. Frank Rodriguez sold heroin for years before himself becoming an addict. Six years clean, he now aims to humanize addicts in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood. This is the first story in a series about the open-air drug market in Kensington.

What is the history of Kensington? ›

Kensington becomes Fishtown

The Kensington name came from Anthony Palmer, an English merchant from Barbados, in the early 1730s. Palmer purchased what was called the Fairman Estate, about 190 acres in Northern Liberties Township, just north of the City of Philadelphia.

What is the crime rate in Kensington Philadelphia? ›

Crime in Philadelphia
NeighborhoodPopulationViolent Crime Rate*
Logan/Ogontz/Fern Rock46,5320.80
52 more rows

What is the history of New Kensington PA? ›

The development of New Kensington began in 1890 when the Burrell Improvement Company, a group of Pittsburg(h) businessmen, purchased level land on the east side of the Allegheny River as prime location for a city. They had the land surveyed and laid out the town of “Kensington” with a rectilinear grid pattern.

What is the mystery of Kensington? ›

The Kensington Runestone was supposedly discovered in Kensington, which is in central Minnesota all the way back in 1898. A Swedish immigrant, Olof Öhman, reported that he accidentally unearthed it from a field underneath a tree in the mostly rural township of Solem in Douglas County.

What is the new drug in Philadelphia zombies? ›

Xylazine, the “zombie drug,” has fully asserted its presence in Kensington, just as it has elsewhere across Philadelphia, the Northeast corridor, and, increasingly, other sectors of the U.S.

What are nicknames for Kensington Philadelphia? ›

The Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia - known as 'ground zero' for the city's drug epidemic - is in crisis due to widespread abuse of an animal tranquilizer called xylazine.

What is the history of Kensington High Street? ›

From the 1690s to 1893, Kensington High Street was developed around a residential terrace, with large houses occupied by a number of distinguished residents. The Terrace was located roughly between present day Wrights Lane and Adam and Eve Mews. Residents included: Sir Graham Berry, Premier of Victoria, Australia.

Who lives in apartment 8 Kensington Palace? ›

Apartments 8 and 9: Princess Diana's Former Residences

William and Kate now use the residences for office space and entertaining professionally for their various charities.

What people live in Kensington? ›

Today Kensington Palace contains the offices and London residences of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It also contains the offices and residences of The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, The Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

What is the most famous street in Philadelphia? ›

Broad Street (Philadelphia)

What is the most historic street in Philadelphia? ›

No visit to Philadelphia would be complete without a stop at Elfreth's Alley, often referred to as the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. It was opened shortly before 1702 by Arthur Wells, a blacksmith, and John Gilbert, a bolter, and is only a stone's throw away from Christ Church.

Where does Philly rank in murders? ›

The final study placed Philadelphia in the seventh overall ranking. “The homicide rate is increasing rapidly in the U.S., so much so that President Joe Biden has made tackling the problem a priority and spoke in his State of the Union address about his plans to reduce violence,” reads the study.

What is the safest town in Philadelphia? ›

Without further ado, let's explore the best neighborhoods in Philadelphia when it comes to safety.
  • University City. Average rent (one-bedroom): $2,725. ...
  • Pennypack Park. Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,300. ...
  • Upper Roxborough. ...
  • Somerton East. ...
  • Academy Gardens. ...
  • Fox Chase East. ...
  • Fitler Square. ...
  • Bella Vista.
Mar 16, 2023

Is Kensington Philadelphia a nice place to live? ›

Old Kensington is a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a population of 4,381. Old Kensington is in Philadelphia County and is one of the best places to live in Pennsylvania. Living in Old Kensington offers residents an urban suburban mix feel and most residents own their homes.

What is the life expectancy in Kensington PA? ›

According to the report, the life expectancy among men is 63.9, compared to the city average of 62.3. Among women, the life expectancy is 71.5 in Upper Kensington, compared to the city average of 79.3.

Who were the mobsters in New Kensington PA? ›

In New Kensington, brothers Samuel and Gabriel “Kelly” Mannarino con- trolled all forms of illegal enterprise in the town from the 1930s through the 1960s. Their major interests were gambling, specifically numbers games and illegal casinos.

What is the crime rate in New Kensington PA? ›

New Kensington Annual Crimes
Number of Crimes66323
Crime Rate (per 1,000 residents)5.4826.80

Which country is Kensington in? ›

Kensington and Chelsea, royal borough in inner London, England, part of the historic county of Middlesex. It occupies the north bank of the River Thames west of the City of Westminster.

What drug is zombie syndrome? ›

Xylazine, also known as “tranq” or the “zombie drug,” is a horse tranquilizer. Officials said dealers are mixing it with heroin and fentanyl, making both dangerous drugs even more deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 107,735 Americans died between August 2021 and August 2022.

What is the scientific name for zombie drug? ›

Its scientific name is Xylazine. Its street name is Tranq. It's also called the "zombie drug" because that's what people can look like when they use it.

What is the skin rotting zombie drug? ›

Over the long term, these wounds can spread over a person's arms and legs and cause them to rot - a grim phenomenon which has earned xylazine its nickname of “zombie” drug. The dead tissue eventually needs to be amputated.

What are people from Philly called? ›

Philadelphian may refer to: Someone who is from (or a resident of) the city of Philadelphia.

Why is it called Philly? ›

"Philadelphia" is a combination of two Greek words: love (phileo) and brother (adelphos). The city was named by its founder, William Penn, who envisioned a city of religious tolerance where no one would be persecuted.

What is Philly short for? ›

"Philadelphia" is also frequently shortened to '–'Philly' /fɪli/.

Why is it called the high street? ›

In the vast majority of cases the high street in a town or village is the main commercial or shopping thoroughfare. The name seems to have emerged in the 12th century when the word 'high' began to be used to indicate something or someone of a higher, or more important, status than others.

Why is it called Kensington? ›

Kensington probably derives from Chenesitun, 'town' of Chenesi's people. Today some historians believe that all three places were one and owned by early kings, possibly as a residence, as Chelsea was a known meeting-place.

Why was Kensington built? ›

Kensington was marketed as a “health resort”, noted for the cool of summer and away from the dust storms and sand blown off the growing mine dumps. The main roads through Kensington were named for the British Anglo Boer War generals, Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener.

Why did Diana stay at Kensington Palace? ›

Despite her marriage to Britain's future king having ended, Diana continued to be “regarded as a member of the Royal Family”, according to their official website, This meant that she was able to continue to live at the royal address that she had called home for many years prior to her separation.

Where is Princess Diana's old apartment? ›

Diana occupied a three-bedroom Edwardian flat with three close friends in the Coleherne Court block on Old Brompton Road from 1979 until 1981, the year in which she married the Prince of Wales. It was Diana's first home since leaving her parents' nest and was awarded an English Heritage blue plaque last September.

Who lives in Princess Diana's house? ›

The majestic Althorp estate is more than just a sprawling home in the English countryside: It's the family home of Princess Diana. Diana spent her teenage years at Althorp, and it's now the residence of her younger brother, Charles Spencer.

What celebrity lives in Kensington? ›

Kensington Palace

Home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, George, Charlotte, Louis, Princess Eugenie and several other members of the Royal Family - the palace is how the street got its name.

Is Kensington a rich place to live? ›

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is another of the most expensive boroughs in London. With an average house price of £1.67m, buyers must have a big bank balance to afford a property in this area.

Do normal people live in Kensington Palace? ›

Kensington Palace contains many public and private apartments and residences within the building and its grounds. The palace houses fifty total residents. Aside from royals, it also hosts members of the military, courtiers, staff, and citizens who pay market rent.

What is the prettiest street in Philadelphia? ›

Elfreth's Alley was officially designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. The street is only open to pedestrians. It's bordered by North 2nd Street on one end and North Front Street on the other. Beyond that, a tall wall separates the edge of the Old City from the expressway and Delaware River below.

What is Philadelphia oldest street in America? ›

Elfreth's Alley is one of the oldest continuously inhabited residential streets in the United States. Located in Old City, Philadelphia, Elfreth's Alley dates back to 1703 and is an exceptional collection of early American structures built between 1720 and 1836.

What drug is bad in Philadelphia? ›

US addiction crisis: Tranq has become a bigger part of Philly's street fentanyl supply. The wounds left behind are killing people | CNN.

What is the zombie neighborhood in Philadelphia? ›

The Kensington neighborhood - known as 'ground zero' for the city's drug crisis - is seen littered with zombie-like addicts, with many shamelessly shooting up in broad daylight.

What is Skid Row in Philadelphia? ›

Today, the area most often referred to as Philadelphia's modern-day skid row is in the Kensington neighborhood, along Kensington Avenue near the intersections of Somerset Street and Allegheny Avenue. The area is known for its high rates of open-air recreational drug use, poverty, and homelessness.

What is the richest part of Philadelphia? ›

Rittenhouse Square is undoubtedly the most prestigious and affluent neighborhood in Philadelphia. The neighborhood's beautiful tree-lined streets are home to many of the city's finest restaurants, cafes, and shops.

What is the biggest house in Philadelphia? ›

Lynnewood Hall
Coordinates40°4′30.67″N 75°8′27.01″W
Construction started1897
Cost$8 million (equivalent to $281 million in 2022)
13 more rows

What is the oldest part of Philadelphia? ›

Along with the northern part of Society Hill, Old City is one of Philadelphia's oldest neighborhoods and part of the area where William Penn and the Quakers first settled.

Where was Skid Row in Philadelphia? ›

Philadelphia once had a highly visible skid row centered on Vine Street, just west of the approaches to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. This area was essentially obliterated by highway construction starting in the 1970s.

What happened to the president's house in Philadelphia? ›

Although the house was demolished in 1832, the foundations still remain visible in this unique exhibit focusing on the contradiction of liberty and enslavement in the new nation. NPS photo. The President's House Site is located at the corner of 6th and Market Streets.

What is the tiny street in Philadelphia? ›

Elfreth's Alley — Visit Philadelphia.

Why is there no 14th street in Philadelphia? ›

There is no Fourteenth Street, as Broad Street is where that street would be. Broad Street is the north-south counterpart to Market (formerly High) Street. When surveyor Thomas Holme (1624-95) prepared the first plan of the city of Philadelphia for William Penn (1644-1718), only Broad and High Streets were named.

Why do they call it Skid Row? ›

The religious community responded to their needs by opening shelters to house, feed and proselytize to the men. These neighborhoods were considered seedy, dangerous and dirty. Because of the “skid roads” that were in the center of the neighborhoods, they became known as “Skid Rows.”

How do people end up on Skid Row? ›

The Birth of Modern Day Skid Row

Efforts by the city to clean up the area resulted in the destruction of more residential hotels and other affordable housing units. People who'd previously lived in the hotels were forced to move into shelters -- or onto the sidewalk.

How did Skid Row start? ›

The First "Skid Row" Was in Seattle

The area near the Seattle sawmills along the Skid Road was populated by lumberjacks and mill workers who spent their pay at the saloons and brothels that sprung up to entertain them.

Which president never lived in the White House? ›

Construction began when the first cornerstone was laid in October of 1792. Although President Washington oversaw the construction of the house, he never lived in it.

What is the abandoned castle in Philadelphia? ›

Known as Lynnewood Hall, this turn-of-the-century estate in Philadelphia was built between 1897 and 1900 for US tycoon, prolific art collector and an investor in the ill-fated Titanic, Peter Arrell Browne Widener.

Where is Philly Red Light District? ›

The Red Light District, 265 S 39th St, Philadelphia, PA, Gifts Specialty - MapQuest.

What is the famous homeless street in Philadelphia? ›

After Philadelphia Police forcibly removed a large encampment of these people from an abandoned railroad track by Lehigh Avenue, several smaller encampments formed under the tracks. Police, after a year and a half, removed these encampments causing its residents to spread up Kensington Avenue.

What is the oldest residential street in Philadelphia? ›

No visit to Philadelphia would be complete without a stop at Elfreth's Alley, often referred to as the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. It was opened shortly before 1702 by Arthur Wells, a blacksmith, and John Gilbert, a bolter, and is only a stone's throw away from Christ Church.

Why are there so many abandoned houses in Philadelphia? ›

As Philadelphia's population declined from its high of 2.1 million residents in 1950, tens of thousands of abandoned and tax-delinquent homes were left to crumble. The city amassed 40,000 vacant properties.

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