TODAY I SAW: The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death

[Photos by JUSTIN ROMAN]   BY JEFF DEENEY The small pile of stuffed animals on Berks Street, north of 31st, looks neglected even though it’s only been there about three weeks. Some of the dolls are scattered, resting in the garbage-strewn grass plot across the street from the tiny Pleasant Oak Missionary Church. It’s impossible to know whether this memorial, marking a murder that happened back in February, was kicked over or was simply blown askew by a strong wind. These dolls aren’t covered in loving messages from friends and family members like I’ve seen at other sites, and there […]


[Photo by JUSTIN ROMAN] BY JEFF DEENEY On the corner of 57th and Arch, there’s a stuffed Tweety bird lashed to a tree. Large, black letters, “RIP BB,” are written in marker across the the bird’s oversized yellow forehead. Across the street is a dumpy Chinese takeout joint with a crew of corner boys posted up in front of it. It’s a warm, sunny late winter day and there’s a lot of foot traffic on the block. When the camera comes out and we start to shoot the curbside memorial the corner boys point at us, waving to each other […]

TODAY I SAW: The Valley of The Shadow Of Death

[Photos by JUSTIN ROMAN] BY JEFF DEENEY What looks at first glance like a makeshift pyramid of stuffed animals outside an abandoned brownstone between 22nd and 21st on Dauphin Street is in fact it is one of Philly’s many street shrines for neighborhood homicide victims. The stuffed animals comprising this shrine are mostly bears of different sizes, shapes and pedigree. There’s writing in black magic marker on the bears that reveals a name: Mook. The same name is spray painted on the front window of the house next door to the abandoned brownstone. “RIP Mook” is scrawled in big, black […]

TODAY I SAW: Dawg Day Afternoon

BY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW a collarless gray brindled pit bull giving lazy chase to another stray on 72nd Street, across from the Paschall Homes. The shaggy dog leading the pit bull jogged past the crumbling houses on Yocum Street, looking back over its shoulder, causing the pit to playfully hop up on his hind legs for a step or two when it did. The proliferation of feral dogs around the Paschall Homes lends irony to the statement spray painted on the facing low-rise brick wall dotted by plywood-covered windows on Greenway Avenue that reads, “Welcome 2 the Zoo.” […]

TODAY I SAW: The Untouchables III

[Photos by MICHAEL S. WIRTZ/INQUIRER] BY JEFF DEENEY You might be asking yourself, as I initially did, why the Inky’s last installment in their three part series titled, “Homelessness in Philadelphia” focuses almost exclusively on New York. I’m not entirely sure, and while your conjecture is as good as mine, I’ll take a stab at formulating some theories. I imagine that this article was meant to act as a sort of demonstration piece about housing first, which is still relatively infantile in its deployment in Philly compared to other cities. When critics harsh on housing first in Philly, they make […]

TODAY I SAW: The Untouchables II

BY JEFF DEENEY If you caught yesterday’s comments on the Inky’s big three part series, “Homelessness in Philadelphia,” you know that I felt it wasn’t looking so strong out of the gate. It was another collection of phoned in quotes from the usual suspects who contributed to the paper’s last ten articles on homelessness, some nominal street reporting that read like it was done in a single afternoon and a sensational accompanying photo of a ramshackle shelter, the sight of which anyone who’s ever worked a day in center city already knows all too well, that didn’t provide any extra […]

TODAY I SAW: The Untouchables

BY JEFF DEENEY The Inquirer’s first attempt at serious homelessness coverage in a long time, imaginatively titled “Homelessness in Philadelphia,” saw the first of its three parts run in the Sunday paper. You might remember back in November that I took a swipe at Inky writers Jennifer Lin and Joseph Slobodzian for peddling the same weak sauce the Inky usually peddles when it comes to homelessness and linked to a hard hitting series by the Boston Globe that did it right and won accolades. Imagine this: four months later Lin and Slobodzian return with a series just like the Globe’s that […]

TODAY I SAW: There Will Be Bloods

BY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW the whitewashed statue of a saluting soldier on the corner of 61st and Grays Avenue (no, not Gray’s Ferry) in the Southwest. The statue is surrounded by protective, thigh-high black iron gating and red, white and blue-painted poles. The soldier is dressed in a World War II uniform and wearing a side cap; the statue itself is on a crumbling slab of concrete next to a tiny brown brick VFW Hall. There are a handful of obvious crack houses on tiny Glenmore Street, which runs parallel to Grays Avenue. You can tell they’re hit […]

TODAY I SAW: The Ramsey Crimefighting Plan

BY JEFF DEENEY Newly anointed police chief Ramsey released his crime fighting strategy yesterday, a very readable and accessible 22 page document that provides a first look into the mind of the man who will be leading the charge against violent crime as the Nutter administration ramps up. The Nutter administration continues to look promising to me; he’s moved fast to get promised policy documents into the public’s hands and there is a sense I think most of us share that some shit is finally starting to get done around here. Last week some major, desperately needed changes were announced […]

PROPS: ‘Today I Saw’ Deeney In The Pennsylvanian

THE DAILY PENNSYLVANIAN: Jeff Deeney, a social worker and freelance writer who writes frequently about his work in Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods, also cited housing segregation as a concern. “The poorest parts [of the city] are very isolated socially — they don’t generally butt up against neighborhoods that are thriving.” Deeney also blames a lack of jobs, a broken housing system, and “schools that look and function a lot like correctional facilities” for much of the problem. “People don’t understand what life under the poverty line looks like,” he said. Deeney explained that many single-parent families live on less than $1,600 […]


BY JEFF DEENEY Today I saw a confused young man having a meltdown behind the counter of the McDonald’s on 52nd and Chestnut Street. His uniform was oversized and he had a dark, long-sleeved shirt on under his uniform that looked unwashed. His grease-stained visor’s brim was pulled down low to obscure his eyes. He rang my order up wrong, so I repeated it slowly, thinking maybe he misheard me. It was crowded and loud, and I figured my order was drowned out by the noise. I tilted my head a bit to see if he was listening, but he […]


BY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW a woman wearing an ankle-length denim coat over her pajamas. She had on a backward baseball cap and bedroom slippers. She was holding two quarters between her thumb and forefinger, waving them at the middle-aged Chinese couple sitting on stools at the take out joint counter on Lindbergh Boulevard across from the Bartram Village projects in the Southwest. The couple was protected by two offset Plexiglas panes that overlapped, creating a bulletproof shield that stretched the entire length of the counter. There was an open lane between the two panes where food and money […]


[Illustration by Alex Fine] 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 […]