Archive | January, 2014

West Philly’s Ethiopian community raises money, awareness for migrant workers (updated)

January 31, 2014


UPDATE (2/3/2014): The photo above is from the check presentation event on Sunday, Feb. 2, courtesy of Addisu Habte.

Since the 1960s, Ethiopian immigrants have moved to Philadelphia, settling largely in West Philadelphia—one of the largest African communities in the Greater Philadelphia region. Today, West Philadelphia is home to over 10 Ethiopian restaurants, bars, and businesses, and is the epicenter of the Ethiopian Community Association of Greater Philadelphia.

Ethiopian returnees

Male returnees arriving at the Bole Int’l Airport Processing Centre. © IOM 2014 (Photo: Alemayehu Seifeselassie)

West Philadelphia’s Ethiopian community will come together this Sunday, Feb. 2, in an effort to raise awareness regarding the treatment and deportation of Ethiopian immigrants in Saudi Arabia. The event will take place at 3 p.m. in the headquarters of the Ethiopian Community Association of Greater Philadelphia, located at 4400 Chestnut Street.

According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), over 150,000 Ethiopian immigrants have returned to Ethiopia since Saudi Arabia began deporting undocumented migrant workers as part of a “crackdown” on irregular migration in November. Since deportation efforts started, IOM has helped Ethiopian returnees with emergency medical assistance, post-arrival health assistance, psychological aid, food, transportation, essential items, and reintegration allowances. The organization is also working with the Ethiopian government to manage the influx of vulnerable migrants.

Addisu Habte, a local community organizer, told West Philly Local that the Philadelphia Ethiopian community raised over $23,000 in funds to contribute to the IOM in its efforts to provide assistance to deported immigrants. The Ethiopian Community Association will present a formal donation check to a representative of the U.S. Association for International Migration, which works in partnership with the IOM, on Sunday.

A presentation on the situation of assistance in Ethiopia and to Ethiopians returning from Saudi Arabia will also be given during the event.

Annamarya Scaccia

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After meeting, future of the 5000-5100 blocks of Baltimore Ave still unclear (updated)

January 31, 2014

meeting photo

About 150 people turned out at the People’s Baptist Church at 5039 Baltimore Ave. for a public meeting about the future of the 5000 and 5100 blocks of Baltimore Ave. Business owner and state representative candidate Algernong Allen (front left) and David Hincher (right), both of Cedar Park Neighbors, facilitated the meeting, which raised as many questions as it answered. (Photo by Mike Lyons/West Philly Local)

UPDATED (2/1/14): City Paper’s Ryan Briggs also has a recap of Thursday night’s meeting at the People’s Baptist Church. He also caught up with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell after the meeting to ask why she was missing and what’s happening with the land around 50th/51st and Baltimore. Read more here.

If one thing is clear following last night’s public meeting on the future of the 5000 and 5100 blocks of Baltimore Avenue, it’s that nothing is clear about the future of the 5000 and 5100 blocks of Baltimore Avenue.

About 150 people jammed into the basement of the People’s Baptist Church, to talk about what kind of development, if any, might take place in the area. The block is a patchwork of city and privately held land. Some parcels have structures – many are abandoned – and some are empty lots.

One longstanding plan by a private developer would expand the Mercy Wellness Center at 5008 Baltimore and include parking lots. Another plan by a private developer would have put a garden center on the block, but investors were scared off by the possibility of eminent domain seizures by the city.

Much of the background was included in a story last week.

Anxiety about the future of the area among nearby residents and property holders prompted the meeting. The meeting was well-intentioned, but some key players – like folks from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and others –  were missing, so many questions and concerns went unaddressed. People were looking for answers about blight certification, eminent domain and definite plans for the block. We don’t purport to have all of the answers in this post. We do try to fill in some holes by providing information (if you know more about this than we do, which is quite possible, comment below and we’ll try to fill holes together). For those of you have been keeping a close eye on this there will likely be nothing new here:

Blight certification. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority oversees blight certification in the city. The ins and outs of that process are spelled out (somewhat) here. Blight and redevelopment reports are here. The area near 51st and Baltimore was certified for redevelopment in 1995, so the report is not online. The area is now due for recertification, which could pave the way for redevelopment. Certification clears the way for lots of things, including condemnation or seizure through eminent domain.

Redevelopment plan. Before the city proceeds with redevelopment, it must have a plan. In the Philadelphia 2035 plan, the City Planning Commission identified 51st and Baltimore as an area where blight certification needed to be updated and a new plan written. It also notes that “senior housing” had been identified as a possible priority. The key here is that there needs to be a legitimate, specific plan in place with “demonstrated financing.” One plan that has been on the table for many years is the expansion of the Mercy Wellness Center, but no action has been taken.

Eminent domain. Several speakers at last night’s meeting voiced concerns about the threat of eminent domain seizure as part of a redevelopment process chasing away potential investors. This requires a City Council resolution.

So that’s about the size of it. More questions were probably raised than answered last night. Perhaps the best thing we can do is serve as a public discussion platform. If you have comments, insights or answers, please feel free to comment below.

– Mike Lyons

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Shaban Kabab & Curry opens; delayed opening for West Philadelphia Community Acupuncture and other news (updated)

January 30, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: After publication of this post we heard back from the Orens Brothers, who own The Croydon, the once infamous apartment building at 49th and Spruce, which is undergoing extensive renovation. As the first part of the building revitalization project is expected to be complete soon, we have updated the post with this information.

West Philly Local would like to update its readers on a few business openings and real estate developments in the area we covered in the past.

 The south wing of The Croydon, which contains 27 units, will be complete around April 1 and ready for occupancy in the spring, said John Orens of Orens Brothers, who purchased the property, formerly known to squatters as “Paradise City,” in 2011. The north wing and center building, which make up 100 units, will be complete and ready for occupancy around Sept. 1, 2014.


The Sedgley (photo by Annamarya Scaccia / West Philly Local)

 The renovation of the historic Sedgley Apartments building is nearing completion, according to Noah Ostroff, principal at 400 S. 45th Street LLC, which owns the Sedgley. The work on the building, which has stood on the corner of S. 45th and Pine Streets for more than 100 years, began last summer and was expected to be complete this month, but is taking a little longer because of the size of the building, Ostroff told West Philly Local. Two sample units will be done in the next two weeks and the building will be ready for occupancy in the spring. Tours of the building are expected to start in the next 30 days (email: with questions).

Shaban Great news for South Asian cuisine lovers: Shaban Kabab & Curry opened its doors earlier this week at 4145 Chestnut Street and is already taking online orders. Stay tuned for our review of this place.

 Due to minor setbacks, West Philadelphia Community Acupuncture (WPCA), the new holistic clinic run by Philadelphia Community Acupuncture’s Sarah Lefkowich, will delay its grand opening until the end of February.

According to Lefkowich, West Philadelphia Community Acupuncture’s efforts to open, originally scheduled for early January, were stalled by city inspections and permit issues facing the building where the practice will be located, which is undergoing renovations including a new building facade, walls, ceiling, bathroom, and floors. “We are so excited to be a part of it,” she said.

Lefkowich said there is no firm date for when WPCA will open next month, but she will keep the community updated through West Philadelphia Community Acupuncture’s Facebook page and company newsletter, which readers can sign up for here. The clinic is still offering $10 treatments as a grand opening special for its first month open.

 Cafe Renata is celebrating its first anniversary this Saturday and community members are invited to join in the celebration (more info is on Renata’s Facebook page). Congratulations to the owners, Yasser and Katie. As a reminder to our readers, this is how it all began for these guys.

Annamarya Scaccia

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‘Them That Do’ Profiles of West Philly block captains: Freda Egnal, 4800 Osage Avenue

January 29, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the latest in the series of vignettes of local block captains drawn from Them That Do, a multimedia documentary project and community blog by West Philly-based award-winning photographer Lori Waselchuk. Make sure to go to Them That Do for more photos, videos and other information and updates.

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Freda Egnal, block captain for 43 years on the 4800 block of Osage Avenue.

Freda Egnal, block captain for 43 years on the 4800 block of Osage Avenue. (Photo by Lori Waselchuk)

“Stop Bitching, Start A Revolution,” reads the Zendik Farm bumper sticker on the Prius parallel-parked between handicap parking signs. The sign poles are decorated with beads, fabric, earrings and ribbons. This is Freda Egnal’s spot.

Egnal is a funky lady. She dyes flashes of blue, green, yellow and purple into her white hair to match the rainbow rims of her glasses. She covers the walls of her front-porch office with posters and buttons shouting slogans like HOUSES NOT HIGHWAYS (1970’s) or REFORM HEALTHCARE NOW! (2000’s) – most are from community campaigns and projects that she has worked on.

When I met Egnal a year ago, she had been a block captain for over 40 years. A few months ago she passed on that position to a young couple who volunteered. But she hasn’t been able to rewire her captain habits. “I still send out e-mails,” she says. The neighbors can’t break their familiar patterns either, Egnal says. “People still come to me with small problems and I try to help them.”

Egnal speaks proudly about her block. “We became organized in the 1970s and we made a big effort of looking out for each other.” She says never felt unsafe and remembers feeling “offended when Penn told their students that it wasn’t safe west of 40th Street.”

Her fondest memories from her block-captain days are the First Friday Block Club meetings, in which block business was mixed with socials. “We had a lot of neighbors make presentations about their own areas of expertise.” Egnal remembers. “And of course we would always eat.”

After graduating from the UPenn School of Social Work in the late ‘60s, Egnal moved into the home on Osage Street with her partner, Herbert Bickford, and worked for the city of Philadelphia as a community and labor organizer.

As a civil servant, Egnal was ‘hatched’ – the term used to describe the federal Hatch Act that forbids government employees to work in party politics. Now retired, Egnal is free to dedicate her time to a lifelong passion for politics. She represents her neighborhood division on the Democratic Party Committee. Egnal says it’s “the lowest rung on the party apparatus.”

But her humble rank in the Democratic Party doesn’t keep her from still believing in change. “I think capitalism clearly has failed. I still think we need a revolution.”

Lori Waselchuk

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Water main break reported near 47th and Osage

January 29, 2014

West Philly Local readers are reporting a water main break on Osage Ave between 47th and 48th Streets, with water running down to 47th Street and over to Pine. Please walk and drive carefully in that area as the streets are icy. (Photos by Joel DeGrands)




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Get help signing up for ObamaCare at local library branches (updated)

January 28, 2014

According to latest statistics, 210,000 Philadelphians are without health insurance. This is where the recently introduced Affordable Care Act, or “ObamaCare,” comes in. If you’re considering this health care coverage but don’t know how to sign up or are confused about something along the process, here’s some help. The Free Library of Philadelphia is offering individuals and their families free appointments with Certified Application Counselors who will answer your questions and help you sign up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Open enrollment for 2014 coverage ends on March 31, so if you need assistance in the application process please call ahead to one of these Free Library branches in West Philadelphia and schedule an appointment with a Certified Counselor:

Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library
125 S. 52nd St. | 215-685-7429

Charles L. Durham Branch
3320 Haverford Ave. | 215-685-7436

Walnut Street West Library (starting Monday, Feb. 3; make an appointment with Certified Application Counselor Tiffany Nardella)
201 S. 40th St. | 215-685-7671

Wynnefield Library
5325 Overbrook Ave. | 215-685-0298

In addition, the Tech Lab at the Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine Street, will offer regular open hours from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., during which you can drop in for Affordable Care Act assistance without an appointment. Certified Application Counselors will be available on a first come, first served basis.

For more information, visit this page.

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