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Philadelphia's mayor urges delay on Safehouse injection site

Written by Nina Feldman/WHYY | Apr 18, 2019 5:00 AM

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Philadelphia residents from Kensington and beyond crowd a recent discussion on a proposed supervised injection site on Hilton Street near Kensington and Allegheny Avenue. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

(Philadelphia) -- Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is urging the nonprofit Safehouse to explore other potential locations for its supervised injection site. The nonprofit announced it was closing in on a building in Kensington for the facility, inciting opposition from neighbors. The facility would be the first in the nation allowing people to inject illicit drugs under medical supervision.

Now, Kenney is instructing the nonprofit -- which has the city's support but is an independent entity -- to slow down and consider more options.

While Kenney said he still supports opening a supervised injection site, also called an overdose prevention site, he said a single such facility in Kensington will not address the problem of addiction citywide. More than 1,100 people died last year in Philadelphia from drug overdoses.

Urging the nonprofit or other operators to explore multiple locations, he said public safety concerns of the residents must be addressed before opening any site.

"We must balance the needs of those suffering from addiction with the needs of residents whose neighborhoods have been deeply impacted by this epidemic," he said Wednesday in a statement.

Safehouse representatives to did not return calls seeking comment on Kenney's recommendation that is consider other sites.

It has selected a Hilton Street location, close to the Kensington and Allegheny

El stop, in the area at the heart of the city's opioid epidemic. A developer who owns property there made a deal with Safehouse to donate the space for a dollar.

Members of the Harrowgate Neighborhood Association said they're worried that placing the facility there would keep the drug dealing and dangerous crime associated with it confined to their neighborhood.

The mayor's reaction is the most recent in a slew of political and legal opposition. City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez has long opposed safe injection facilities in her district, and Councilman Mark Squilla has introduced a measureto block the site in its proposed location by rezoning the area to single-family housing.

Safehouse is also the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors, and board member Ronda Goldfein told community members that no site would open until the case was resolved.  Safehouse filed a response to the suit, based on the premise that its primary purpose would be to preserve lives, not promote illegal drug use.

WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on WHYY.org

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