Hohenstein: We must step up now and show humanity at its best

My earliest childhood memories are of Afghanistan. My family lived there for almost two years in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when my parents were part of a Catholic service organization, Americans for International Development. They heeded President Kennedy’s call and took their hearts and minds (and 5 kids) overseas. I fondly remember Pashtun and Afghan kids who lived near us being my friends – and I was the foreigner. Afghanistan will always hold a place in my heart, and I mourn for it today.   

My parents returned from overseas to do the same service-based work in the neighborhoods where our family goes back 5 generations. I am proud to represent the places where I also have strong memories growing up – from Simpson playground to Bridesburg pool to the athletic fields of Frankford and Lincoln High schools to taking the El to and from school and work for many years. These are the places I consider home.  

As I watch the humanitarian crisis unfold in Afghanistan, I can’t help but think that our city is facing a humanitarian crisis of its own. In Philadelphia, we are preparing to evict homeless, mostly drug addicted, people from the places they have encamped – telling them to move on but not providing a real destination. These are people least able to absorb hardships. Our neighbors in their homes and those on the streets in Kensington are in harm’s way.

This is humanity at its worst.  So we must step up now and show humanity at its best. 

In Afghanistan, it means making a commitment to protect our friends.  

In Philadelphia, it means we must stop simply talking about ending the opioid epidemic. During the entire course of the COVID-19 pandemic we have essentially ignored and forgotten the people living and dying in the streets – and in their own homes – of drug overdoses that could have been prevented. We have resources to put towards this that can combine compassionate care and a firm hand to enforce the law. What we need is the will to do both at the same time.

My colleagues in City government need to get together and formulate a plan beyond simply moving people out of the way.   

We in Harrisburg need to do what we can to support that plan once it is drafted. However, my colleagues in the House have refused our calls to extend the Governor’s emergency declaration on opioids. That declaration is a tool that would provide needed flexibility and resources to the City as it deals with the latest manifestation of the crisis. Earlier this month, I wrote a letter with my colleague, Rep. Mary Isaacson, asking Speaker Bryan Cutler to call us into session so that we can extend the declaration. He has not answered us yet, and the time to act runs out next week.  

I cannot sit by and watch as my neighborhoods are put in harm’s way. Just as I will insist that our national government protect our Afghan friends, I insist that our City and State decision makers take action that will protect our neighbors both in their homes and on the streets.