Safehouse Gets Pushback for Choosing Hilton Street as ‘Supervised Injection Site’

The 1800 block of Hilton Street / Photo: T. Lineman / Juniata News

  The ongoing saga of placing a Supervised Injection Site in Philadelphia hit a milestone last week when Safehouse announced that a building on the 1800 block of Hilton Street is their intended location. The building is a stone’s-throw from Kensington and Allegheny Avenues.

   One day before the announcement, Shannon Farrell, President of the Harrowgate Civic Association (HCA), received a call from Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein, alerting her of the decision. Farrell said that Goldfein told her that she’s not asking for her permission, but just being transparent in letting her know that they are moving forward with negotiating a lease.

   After acquiring their own attorney to represent the community, Farrell and the HCA started a petition on Change.org which can be viewed to the right, or on the Harrowgate Civic Association Facebook page. The petition says that Councilman Mark Squilla and Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez oppose the sites, and that Mayor Jim Kenney, who is supporting the sites, “has the power to stop it as well”.

   When the announcement was made, social media exploded with comments. Dennis Payne, a Kensington resident, homeless advocate, and Founder of The Homeless American Volunteers Organization Coalition, stated his opposition to the Supervised Injection Site.

   “K&A is going to be one of the most violent corners in America in the next few months when that Safehouse opens up” he posted. “Remember these words. With drugs comes guns, with guns comes homicide. Stop the drugs, you stop the homicides”.

   Councilwoman Sanchez distributed a statement saying “As Council-woman for the 7th District I am adamantly against locating an injection site in Kensington. As the ongoing issues related to the opioid crisis have created a toxic environment for long term residents and families, and have helped destroy a once-growing business corridor, we are working to move the respite sites and services away from the corridor.”

   State Rep. Angel Cruz, who was once in favor of an injection site, said that he’s now opposed. “100% no”, he said. “Enough is enough of dropping things in Kensington that nobody wants.” He said that the model was initially misrepresented to him.

   Some, like Bill Heeney, candidate for Council at Large, didn’t hold back. “Let’s put an injection site in Rendell’s basement, I’m sure he has a nice large finished basement.  There are many poor law abiding people in Harrowgate and Kensington, many of them are elderly seniors who are still in the home they raised their children in. They are suffering enough with crime already, LEAVE THEM ALONE!  Try getting some of your rich friends to invest in refurbishing Kensington and not making it worse, it is not a dumping ground!  TAKE IT TO YOUR HOUSE!!!!”

   Farrell voiced a similar frustration with Mayor Kenney. She told radio host Solomon Jones on 107.9 that “The Mayor and his administration does not give a damn about us.” Jones, who has dealt with an addiction of his own, is also opposed, saying “The only way for people to get off drugs, is for people to get off drugs.”

   Farrell was among a group who traveled to Toronto to see their Overdose Prevention Facility.  The trip revealed that in Toronto there were still people publicly using needles and people panhandling in the doorways of businesses. Business owners told the group that they get robbed, are plagued with shoplifting, and customers get harassed. Farrell called it a ‘containment strategy’ in which the city pushes all the users into a small area, and the police back off, allowing them to do their drugs. Local businesses hire private security guards for their protection. The only advantage, according to Farrell, was that needles aren’t found on the ground there.

   As the community suffers, only 4-percent of those using the facility in Toronto go into recovery.

   Farrell has a better idea — Enforce the law and continue outreach services to those who are addicted. She finds it counter-productive that the City is rebuilding Heitzman Rec Center in her neighborhood while allowing an injection site to move into Harrowgate as well. She refers to drug dealers as the “Mayor’s business associates” because by opening the Injection Site, he’s keeping them in business.

   Does the City know what to expect when opening this can-of-worms? Farrell says “no”. During a meeting with Managing Director Brian Abernathy, Farrell said that he expressed concern on how to secure the sight moving forward. Farrell reacted saying that the City’s not even prepared for it.

   Ronda Goldfein was reported to have said that the neighbors have been contacted about the site. As of Friday, one of the business owners on the block, Mark Tay of Humane HomeCare Agency, wasn’t spoken to by representatives of Safehouse. His storefront is right around the corner on the same block. He expressed his displeasure about it to the Juniata News.

   One thing is for sure — Safehouse is getting a good deal on the rent. The negotiation was reported to be a $1.00 lease, rent-free.

  The Harrowgate Civic Association will be hosting a Special Meeting on Thursday, April 4th regarding the situation. Jose Benitez, Executive Director of Prevention Point, and President of Safehouse’s Board of Directors, will be there with other members of the Safehouse group including Ronda Goldfein and Jen Bowles. It will be held at Heitzman Rec Center, Castor Ave. & Amber Street, at 6:30 pm.

PETITION

Following is the text of the Petition to oppose Overdose Prevention Sites/Safe Injection Sites/ Comprehensive User Sites in Harrowgate and the City of Philadelphia on Change.org

    There is a group called the Safe House Group that will be opening an injection site on the 1800 block of Hilton St in Harrowgate. The residents of Harrowgate and the surrounding communities oppose this. The Mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, supports these sites opening in the city. 

    They are also planning on opening sites in South Philadelphia and West Philadelphia as well. I have maps that I received from the Safe House Group with possible locations in South and West Philly. We oppose these sites because this will keep the vicious cycle of drug use and drug trafficking in our neighborhood. We have violent drug dealers who have killed children in our community and some children have been shot and have been lucky enough to survive but have been traumatized forever because of it. The drug users rob us by breaking into ours cars, homes and yards they constantly do this to support their addiction. They defecate on our pavements, in our parks and school yards. This site will not prevent any of that. 

    The city has no public safety strategy for these sites. They have said just today, they are themselves concerned about safety issues with these sites. But they are still supporting them in opening and are going to use city money to put resources in these buildings for those with addiction. But still have no plan for the securing our neighborhood. Our community supports recovery, we work closely with programs in our neighborhood, we supported the opening of a respite center for those that were living under the bridges, we even recently asked them to open them up 24 hours a day so the people staying there could get off the freezing streets during the day not just at night. We have fed the drug users and clothed them at times and given Narcan out and used it. We have turned in the dealers that sell them the heroin, we have supported everything until this. Now we need support. 

    Along with us, Councilman Squilla and Councilwoman Maria Sanchez oppose these sites. But Mayor Kenney is going to allow this to open and he has the power to stop it as well. Please sign our petition and stand with us against these sites. 

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