Angel Cruz has served since 2001 as State Representative for Pennsylvania’s 180th district, encompassing Kensington. Rep. Cruz talked with PPR as part of our series on the Philadelphia Opioid Crisis. Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Penn Political Review: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
Angel Cruz: I am a resident of Kensington. I’ve lived in my home for 30 years. So I’ve been in this community for ever, so I know the ins and outs, and I see the difference in the way this neighborhood has been, in the process that it has gone through first-hand because I live here.
PPR: How have you seen Kensington change in your 30 years here?
AC: There’s been drugs in this community, in every community, for years. When I first moved here, I could count how many Hispanics and blacks lived in this community. I was one of the first to live around here. You started just seeing people pick up and leaving abandoned houses and you saw more trash, more and more abandoned cars, graffiti everywhere, and you have areas where you have the drug kings and the drug lords in those areas that chased good people out and they inhabited their properties.
This issue with the open drug sales, this issue with the drugs under the bridge, this isn’t going to take a year. This is been done through many years of neglect. I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve dealt with many mayors, but it fell on deaf ears. But now we have a mayor who said ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and be ready to work.’ This is the first mayor that listened, heard our cry, who says Kensington is Kensington, and is a neighborhood just like any other neighborhood in the city of Philadelphia and it has to get priority and attention. Kudos to Mayor Kenney, He’s done a wonderful job and taking care of this issue.
PPR: What is the solution to solving the heroin crisis?
AC: I think that we’re so far off right now that it’s going to take years to clean this up. I was asked the other day by [Mike] Newall, a reporter for The Inquirer, do you support an institution where people come in to get high? and I told him at the moment you’re asking me this, yes. We need a site because they’re doing it out on the street publicly. They’re throwing the syringes everywhere else. People walk through there, people could get sticked. So while we look for a solution to this problem, why don’t we have a center where they can go, to keep them out of the streets, keep them out of the public eye, keep them out of everywhere? Until we can find a solution for where we can put these people.
How do we take care of them? You got to remember that these people have an addiction, have a disease and it’s killing them, which is drugs, but these are human beings that have families that care for these people and we should do the same.
PPR: What is going on at the state level to address this crisis?
AC: I hosted three public hearings about the opiate crisis On Gurney Street. We had some pieces of legislation that we’re passing — Rep. Gene DeGirolamo from Bucks County has a piece where any pharmaceutical that sells opiates will have a 10% or 20% tax that they will have to pay. And the money that is generated will be used for homes in counseling centers, for people with opiate problems. So that’s going to fly. And we did some pieces about regulating the halfway houses and the recovery houses because they were not regulated, you did everything you wanted to do there. And another piece, which was mine, was that every person is responsible for their own benefits (14:48) from the city or the State. No one can hold you hostage with them to get your benefits. So there’s stuff that we’ve done that is heading in the right direction, but it’s going to take time. Even Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s a long haul, but we got to start somewhere.
PPR: Beyond drugs, what are other needs that exist in Kensington?
AC: Education, real estate, people owning their own properties. There’s so many neglected and abandoned properties. You have so many houses that belong to HUD that are just sitting there because they get federal dollars whether they’re occupied or they’re vacant. and we need more security more police, and more city services. Cleaning alleys, cleaning empty lots, cleaning up this community.
Right now, the city council, they get over paid for working one day a week. They’re in session on Thursdays. now they have district offices. why does a city council member have 20 staff members, okay? So I think they need to prioritize what is important in this and how we stop cutting city services in Philadelphia. So those are the things that I think.
PPR: How can an institution like Penn contribute to addressing this crisis?
AC: These folks, what they need is inpatient Services, outpatient services where they can get Treatment, fed, bathed. what we did today, we had a lot of agencies but the people that came here for the food. And they were looking at everything, but they left. They didn’t take nothing from nobody. They’re not in the right State of Mind to do that. We need to find a place where we can counsel them, help them, clothe them, feed them, And get the moving In the right direction.
PPR: Where do you see this going in five or ten years?
AC: I think we will get ahold of it. I think this will all be part of gentrification and letting the neighborhood go down to the very bottom and then try to raise it back up. That’s why I say, no room for gentrification. There’s room for beautification. People are trapped here– people deserve to live comfortably in their home. They should be privy to the same Services as anybody else. That’s part of the struggle that we have in Kensington: gentrification.
PPR: What is the thing that you’re most excited about going on in your neighborhood right Now?
AC: This Gurney Street project. We’re trying to help people live comfortably. When I moved here, people sat on their stoops and talked to their neighbors. We don’t have that anymore, people are fearful. I’m excited about this movement, but it’s going to take time. But it’s getting done. I’m very comfortable with in my lifetime seeing the Gurney Street and West Kensington that I grew up in.
PPR: Anything else you’d like to add?
AC: I thank the media today because they exposed this. And even those who took it for personal gain, the exposure that you gave woke up a lot of people. The difficulty that we have now is to keep the work moving forward to restore Kensington to what it was.