By Alfred Lubrano (Inquirer) – Ilza Padua bathes her 500-pound ex-boyfriend in exchange for a shower, or a $10 bill she could use to buy a bag of heroin.
Homeless for years in the madness and squalor of West Kensington, Padua, 46, is weary and nearly toothless, her leathery skin marred with scars from knife attacks and repeated spikings from dope needles.
She carries a clutch of novels with her – Robin Cook is popular among the homeless for some reason – and has survived by staying awake at night and prostituting herself only to men who seem safe. “Doctors and lawyers are OK,” she said.
An astute observer, Padua says Kensington has been getting crowded lately with more homeless people flooding the neighborhood, known as the epicenter of drug crime in Philadelphia.
“There are so many kids here now,” Padua said. “I ran into my 23-year-old nephew doing heroin.”
The change is conspicuous: “Homelessness in Kensington is increasing exponentially,” said Jose Benitez, executive director of Prevention Point, a neighborhood needle-exchange program that provides free medical clinics and accepts mail for the homeless.
What’s driving the rise in homelessness is a complex mix of factors, including the pull of heroin; cuts to food stamps, General Assistance, and drug-treatment programs; gentrification in nearby Fishtown; and increased poverty.