The oldest son of late Philadelphia housing activist Jennifer Bennetch has launched a GoFundMe to help support himself and his siblings.
“To the world and so many others she was known as [a] ruthless and dedicated housing activist and a fighter of injustice for so many other[s],” wrote Cole, 18, in the description posted on the campaign’s page. “We are devastated at the loss of our mother, and with all the extra responsibility and grief on our shoulders we would greatly appreciate any help.”
The fundraiser, which Billy Penn confirmed as connected with the Bennetch family, has a goal of $60,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, over $17,300 had been raised from more than 200 donations.
Jennifer Bennetch died of complications related to COVID-19 last Thursday, Feb. 17, The Inquirer first reported.
A longtime advocate for fair and accessible housing for all Philadelphians, she was best known as the driving force behind the 2019 protest known as Occupy PHA, and one of the main organizers of the James Talib Dean homeless encampment the following summer.
Her death at 36 came as a shock to many, from colleagues to fellow residents to elected officials who respected her commitment to the cause.
“Jen’s efforts shined a spotlight on our city’s affordable housing crisis that attracted the attention of our city, our country, and the world,” Councilmember Jaime Gauthier posted on Twitter after the news broke.
Bennetch started regularly attending Philadelphia Housing Authority board meetings in 2017, and what she heard led her to begin organizing against various aspects of the authority, from the way the agency’s police force operated to its policies on eminent domain. She eventually impacted the leadership, and PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah even offered a eulogy.
“She has left the city a great legacy,” Jeremiah said in a statement given to the Inquirer. “Know that her fight and her commitment will remain within PHA.”
Camp JTD, born out of the 2020 protests against police violence, was the most visible effort she’d contributed to. From June to October, over 100 homeless people lived in an encampment along the Ben Franklin Parkway, where volunteers provided mutual aid and assistance for residents.
Bennetch announced that she’d facilitated the occupation of a number of PHA-owned rowhomes just weeks after the camp was launched, and negotiations over the occupation led to an agreement with the city that put more than 50 buildings into the stewardship of the organizers through a community land trust.
In December, families that had been experiencing homelessness moved into two rehabilitated buildings in North Philadelphia transferred into the land trust after the initial deal.
You can contribute here to the GoFundMe supporting Cole Bennetch, his 9-year-old brother, and their 7-year-old sister.