Harrowgate Civic discusses possible Safe Injection Site

Councilman Mark Squilla speaks to the Harrowgate Civic Association

Although U.S. Attorney William McSwain filed suit to stop Safehouse from opening a safe injection site in Philadelphia, City Councilman Mark Squilla said that it wouldn’t necessarily mean that Safehouse won’t try to open anyway.

When it comes to finding a location, Safehouse is first looking in the 19134 zip code, according to Shannon Farrell, President of the Harrowgate Civic Association (HCA) — and that means Harrowgate. The block of 1800 E. Hilton Street has been cited as a potential location. The move was discussed at last week’s meeting of the HCA.

While Harrowgate and Kensington share a zip code along with Port Richmond, and the majority of the opioid problems are deeper into Kensington, Councilmanic Districts play a part in where Safehouse is seeking to build their operation. The reason that Safehouse is looking in Harrowgate and not Kensington, in a nutshell, is that Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez is refusing to allow it in her district, and Councilman Mark Squilla says he’s keeping an open mind (although he admits that he doesn’t know a neighborhood that wants it).

Safehouse would allow those addicted to drugs to inject themselves under the supervision of medical care. While some may think a hospital would be the best place for such a facility, Squilla said that can’t happen because it’s an illegal activity. He told the HCA that experts say that the best location would be in the area with the highest usage, in order to save the most lives.

“This is not going to solve or resolve the drug epidemic,” said Squilla. “All this is, is a harm reduction method to try to keep someone alive so that maybe one day they go into help.” He said that the downside is that you’re enabling people in their illegal, harmful activity, and when you enable people, they tend to not look for help out of addiction.

Farrell and the HCA oppose the site, and they’re being joined by Casey O’Donnell, President and CEO of Impact Services in their opposition. Squilla, O’Donnell and Farrell are among those being invited to fly to Toronto in March to see their Overdose Prevention Sites. Farrell said that she met with people from Safehouse, and that they seem very nice. “They want to save lives,” she said. However, she fears what the facility will bring to her neighborhood, and she vowed to represent her neighbors. “It doesn’t matter if you fly me out there and you could give me lobster and steak every night, I represent people, and if they say no …”.   Squilla added that he’s also in the position of doing what the people that he represents want him to do.

There are at least 4 areas that are being looked at for facilities, including Northeast Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, and West Philadelphia. The one in 19134 would serve as a model for the others.

Farrell said that East of Aramingo doesn’t make sense for the site, but Port Richmond will still be impacted. “They go over there and rob them, come over here and buy their drugs. They rob us too, but when they run out of things to rob here because we’re poor, we don’t replace it. Port Richmond has the stuff right over there, so they go over there and steal that.”

When Squilla makes the trip to Toronto, he’ll be looking to talk to residents and business owners in the area around the Overdose Prevention Site. “They want to show us, first of all, that people come in and they shoot up safely. They don’t overdose. It’s clean.” He said that he’s being open-minded and is willing to listen. He wants to know if a facility is going to attract drug dealers to set up outside where they know people will need drugs to shoot up. For drug dealers, he said it would be a great business opportunity. (Obviously bad for the neighborhood). He added that a Channel 6 report showed that residents around the Toronto facility said that crime increased and businesses closed. Almost everything Councilman Squilla said at the meeting indicated that he would oppose the Safe Injection Site, even though he maintained that he’s being open-minded.

Philadelphia and Toronto are very different places, and the reality of facilities in each location could be incredibly different. Last year, the entire Province of Toronto had 87 murders according to Farrell — Just 5 reported by guns. “Drug dealers don’t shoot their kids like they do ours,” said Farrell. “They don’t have the same violence.”

   Mayor Jim Kenney is supporting the facilities, and District Attorney Larry Krasner said that he will not prosecute anyone trying to save lives in Safe Injection sites. The police, on the other hand, have not been given instruction on what they will do. Legally, they have the right to arrest anyone possessing illegal drugs while walking into the facilities.

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