Philly’s opioid crisis

Accidental overdose death at Philly’s COVID prevention site, which is closing in two weeks

Anthony Thomas, who previously lived at the Parkway protest camp, was discovered in his room over Thanksgiving weekend.

The Holiday Inn Center City is being used as a COVID prevention and quarantine site

The Holiday Inn Center City is being used as a COVID prevention and quarantine site

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
BALA CYNWYD, PA - JAN 12, 2019:  Courtenay Harris Bond and her husband Jeffery Bond stand in their renovated kitchen after a tree on their property fell on their home. "CREDIT: Will Figg for The Wall Street Journal"

Sixty-year-old Anthony Thomas died alone in his room at the City of Philadelphia’s COVID prevention site over the Thanksgiving holiday, health department officials confirmed. The cause was accidental drug intoxication, also known as an overdose.

“We deeply mourn this loss of life. It is a tragedy repeated throughout the city due to substance use disorder. It is heartbreaking,” said Liz Hersh, director of the Office of Homeless Services.

A staff member at the site, located at the Center City Holiday Inn near 13th and Sansom streets, said Thomas arrived there in August. Observers at the hotel told Billy Penn Thomas’ body was not discovered until several days after he died.

Joseph Malloy III, 67, who is staying on the same floor, said he was watching a movie Sunday evening when he heard a shriek from a worker who’d asked a security guard to open the door after Thomas didn’t answer.

“Anthony was comfortable here from the few times I saw him,” Malloy said. “If Anthony had any issues, I wish they would’ve been met for him.”

Resources for Human Development (RHD), the nonprofit contracted to run the prevention space, is supposed to check on residents on a regular basis, according to the staffer, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

RHD declined to answer questions about the frequency and regularity of resident room checks. “While we are unable to share specific details regarding the circumstances, RHD has reported the death to the proper authorities and is providing support to the staff and the people we serve on site. Our deepest sympathies go out to the resident’s loved ones,” spokesperson Willa Clinton Joynes said in an email.

Sterling Johnson, one of the organizers of the James Talib-Dean Encampment on the Ben Franklin Parkway, where Thomas had been living, said they worked hard to get him a spot at the Holiday Inn. Thomas had reportedly been doing well, and had recently found work.

“He was really like a kind of gentle, patient person,” Johnson said. “Real cool, real patient.” He said camp organizers had pushed the city to allow roommates at the site, in part to help avoid overdose deaths.

The hotel space was set up in the spring to provide a safe haven for coronavirus-vulnerable people who have nowhere else to self-quarantine. Since last month, when a fire disrupted operations at the Rodeway Inn down the block, the Holiday Inn is also being used as an isolation site for people who’ve tested positive.

It’s all scheduled to shut down in mid-December, according to city spokesperson Mike Dunn, because the federal resources that fund it run out at the end of the year.

All residents at the COVID prevention sites have been offered long-term housing opportunities, Dunn said, adding, “Some of these plans take longer than others for people to actually be able to move, so all are being offered safe interim housing.”

A flyer being distributed to people staying at Philly's COVID prevention site

A flyer being distributed to people staying at Philly's COVID prevention site

Hotel resident

Malloy, the neighbor who heard shrieks, was on the phone with a reporter Tuesday when he received a letter about the Dec. 15 move-out date, which explained that the Office of Homeless Services would help relocate people.

Previously living in a church shelter, Malloy said he was the first person to be housed in the Holiday Inn over the summer and described it as comfortable, despite what he termed the “stigmatization of homeless people” by RHD staff. He will move into a HUD-financed apartment.

Johnson and other protest camp organizers said they are “really concerned right now” because of the looming deadline for residents to leave the prevention site.

Shirley Meyers, 75, another resident of the Holiday Inn, had not heard about Thomas’ death and seemed unaware that she needed to move out by Dec. 15. She came from a shelter, she said. “I don’t know where to go.”


Want some more? Explore other Philly’s opioid crisis stories.

Mornings are for coffee and local news

Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter gives you a daily roundup of the top Philly stories you need to start your day.

You finished another Billy Penn article — keep it up!

We hope you found it useful, fun, or maybe even both. If you want more stories like this, will you join us as a member today?

Nice to see you (instead of a paywall)

Billy Penn’s mission is to provide free, quality information to Philadelphians through our articles and daily newsletter. If you believe local journalism is key to a healthy community, join us!

Your donation brought this story to life

Billy Penn only exists because of supporters like you. If you find our work valuable, consider making a sustaining donation today.

Being informed looks good on you

Thanks for reading another article, made possible by members like you. Want to share BP with a friend?