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.”
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.”