Kensington: Community Members Stacked Against Safe Injection Sites

There was one topic on everyone’s mind at a 24th Police District Police Service Area Three, which serves Port Richmond and Kensington, meeting on April 10. The proposal of the city’s first safe injection site.

Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla was on hand to field questions from the packed rec room at the Sons of Liberty Northeast Lodge located on the corner of Monmouth and Belgrade streets.

Squilla opened the meeting by discussing his recent trip to Toronto to observe the success and shortcomings of the safe injection sites located in the city.

“I came home from that trip very opposed to safe injection sites,” said Squilla.

The opposition of Squilla was consistent with the overwhelming majority of locals in attendance that Wednesday night, as the crowd presented their worries and dislikes regarding Philadelphia’s first proposed safe injection site.

Some of these concerns include the percentage of people who enter in treatment after engaging with a safe injection site, as well as the possibility of having multiple sites in the city.

Squilla was also met with shouts of, “The term safe injection site is an oxymoron,” and “Why can’t we vote on this?” The latter was met with heavy applause around the room as many were in agreement on the idea of putting the issue of a safe injection site on the ballot.

Squilla further went on to discuss not only the heroin epidemic in the city but also the growing issue of fentanyl.

“Philadelphia has a big fentanyl supply, and the people who are dying are dying from fentanyl,” said Squilla. “Nobody here wants to see anyone die.”

Squilla was joined by Sgt. Mike Spicer of the 24th district as he addressed questions from the point of view of the police officers.

One of the growing concerns was the lack of officers at times in the area.

“Our captain has already asked for 30 more officers,” said Spicer. “Nobody is not working. We’re swamped.”

As the meeting drew toward its conclusion, many patrons in the room made it clear they did not want the safe injection site anywhere in the city, let alone their own neighborhoods.

While the idea of injection sites are gaining momentum, there are still some barriers that stand in the way, such as the legality of operating the site in Philadelphia.

“Part of the problem is it’s illegal, [Safehouse] has to operate this illegally,” said Squilla. “They’re not moving forward until the courts decide if it’s legal or not.”

Despite the controversy, it was an overall productive conversation according to John Kalicki, president of the South Port Richmond Civic Association.

“People want to be heard, and everybody who wanted to be heard got that opportunity,” said Kalicki. “It shows a passion, it shows people care about their neighborhood, and who wouldn’t want people to care about their neighborhood.”

The issue drew more than an estimated 100 in attendance, far more than the typical attendance for a Wednesday night meeting.

“What we found is, when there’s an issue, people will come out,” said Kalicki. “If there’s not really an issue like the last bunch of meetings that weren’t well attended, we’re talking probably in the neighborhood of 15 to 20.”

The improved attendance of the April 10 meeting can be partly attributed to the attendance of Squilla, who appeared at multiple meetings that particular night.

“If we ask [Squilla] to come out and his schedule is available he will come out,” said Kalicki. “We’ve not had a problem getting a politician if we need it, they’ve been very receptive.”

The South Port Richmond Civic Association holds meetings on the second Wednesday of every month, and with the continuing debate around safe injection sites, they are likely to be a well-attended event for those in the area.

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