BY JEFF DEENEY “Today I saw…” is a series of nonfiction shorts based on my experiences as a caseworker serving formerly homeless families now living in North and West Philadelphia. I decided not long after starting the job that I was seeing so many fascinating and disturbing things in the city’s poorest neighborhoods that I needed to start cataloging them. I hope this bi-weekly column serves as a record of a side of the city that many Philadelphians don’t come in contact with on a daily basis. I want to capture moments not frequently covered by the local media, which tends to only cover the most fantastically violent or sordid aspects of life there.

Today I saw a pile of teddy bears arranged like a pyramid around the thin trunk of a young tree planted in the sidewalk near the corner of 13th and Parrish Streets. The tree was on a block of recently erected two-story Section 8 homes that looked like suburban tract plots, complete with small squares of green front lawn, driveways and little back yards big enough to fit a kiddie pool and a wash line. I was walking down this same block about a week earlier on a warm afternoon thinking that it didn’t look like a bad place to live. I walked past again after reading in the morning paper that a man was murdered there early Sunday morning.

I don’t know what I expected to see. There wasn’t any evidence of a crime scene, no body shapes in tape on the concrete to mark where the body fell. There were no blood stains, even though the victim died from a gunshot to the neck and there was surely a thick, standing pool of it left behind after the Ambulance sped off. A hard rain fell late that night and it must have washed away any remaining traces of the crime itself. I saw the colorful pile of bears from a half block away. When I got there I knelt down to look at them.

The victim’s name was Rahdean. It was written in magic marker on the bears. I love you, Rahdean…Peace, Rahdean… RIP, Rahdean…I miss you, Rahdean. The bears were soaked with rain water and some of the writing was smudged and hard to read. There was a crumpled and soggy sheet of poster board near the bears covered in scrawled shout outs from Rahdean’s friends on “D-Block.” After reading them I put the paper back the way I found it.

Afterward I went around the block to the Dunkin Donuts on Broad and there was an old dopefiend out front, trying to sell baby pacifiers encased in plastic from a cardboard box. Two dollars, he said, rustling the box in my direction. When I opened the door I smelt fried dough and burnt coffee and heard Elton John’s ridiculous falsetto singing the lalalalala ending to Crocodile Rock’s refrain.


Today I saw a rusted shopping cart standing on the corner of 17th and Ridge. It had white buckets hanging off it by their handles and a sign propped up in its basket. The sign was made of splintered, white painted wood and the words, “CAR WASH” were scrawled on it in fat, red letters. Across the street from the cart a heavily bundled homeless man stood in front of a shuttered grocery store turning in circles, scanning the sidewalk like he dropped something. It was early morning, not long after sunrise, and there was no one else around.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer who has contributed to the City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture. He is also a caseworker with a nonprofit housing program that serves homeless families.

[Photo by Rachael Shirley]

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