Updated at 7:30 p.m. Thursday: Constitution Health Plaza has canceled plans to open the safe injection site at the South Philadelphia location.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — South Philadelphia residents are outraged after a federal judge cleared the way for a safe injection site in the city. The planned site is not where it was originally proposed and some of the neighbors from the new location are not happy.
The site will be at Constitution Health Plaza, near Broad and McKean Streets, in South Philadelphia.
During Wednesday’s contentious press conference, promised facts about the forthcoming opening of the city’s first injection site were overshadowed by a lot of back and forth between angry community members and the heads of nonprofit agency Safehouse, which is running the program on behalf of the City of Philadelphia.
It’s now an uphill battle for Safehouse.
“Where were you to tell us about what was going on? You were all silent and you were silent because you snuck it in. You blindsided us. So tell everybody in South Philly, generations of families who don’t leave, who have college degrees, who sit there and stay in their community, who raise our children there, because for you that’s the street you go down when you go to an Eagles game and a Sixers game. You don’t sit there and live in that community, you don’t walk on date night like my husband and I do to Passyunk Avenue,” one resident said during the press conference.
Residents were joined by local Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in saying they feel blindsided by today’s announcement, saying they were never told that the safe injection site would be put in their South Philadelphia neighborhood. They added no community meetings were held with a chance for residents to share their input.
“They are moving forward without input from the community, which is downright disrespectful and unacceptable,” Johnson said.
Safehouse leaders said otherwise, stating City Council as a whole voted yes on approval of an eventual site.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who sits on the board of Safehouse, says there’s a lot of misconception that having an injection site will turn people into addicts, but he assures that no drugs will be issued at the facility. Clean needles will be provided, then confiscated, before users head out the door. There will also be social workers on hand to talk to users about treatment programs.
“It is personal for so many people. A thousand people-plus have been dying the last three years in Philadelphia. The murder rate soars over 300 and everyone goes crazy… Well three-and-a-half times that many people die of opioid overdoses,” Rendell said.
Safehouse says three to four people die of a drug overdose in Philadelphia every day and that the goal is to save lives.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw says the department expects protests and officers will get additional training to handle the new site and what comes with it.
“We have security plans in place. These will be communicated to our officers so there are no blurred lines as far as what our purpose is,” Outlaw said.
Those plans are expected to be in place when the South Philadelphia site opens sometime next week along South Broad Street.
U.S. Attorney William McSwain promised he will be evaluating “all options” should the city rush forward with the opening of this Safehouse site. He plans to continue fighting this opening in court.
“In light of these concerns, Safehouse should act prudently and not rush to open while the appeal is pending. But if it does rush forward, my Office will evaluate all options available under the law,” McSwain said in a statement.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was not at the press conference but said it was Safehouse’s decision to put the site in South Philly.
“It’s not our decision to put it in South Philly, it’s the Safehouse decision. And the judge agreed that it was not against the federal law,” Kenney said. “We had 1,100 people die last year, 1,200 the year before, 900 the year before that, and harm reduction and keeping people alive so they can get better is important. We’ll conduct what we need to conduct to make things safe for people in their area and bring the social services necessary to get people into treatment.”
The Fraternal Order of Police says the injection site would “endanger residents and beat-cops on the street.”
“Our officers are fundamentally opposed to the idea of normalizing illicit use of heroin and fentanyl that is ravaging our city. The proposed site would endanger residents and beat-cops on the street,” the FOP said. “We acknowledge the solution to ending the opioid crisis in Philadelphia is complicated, but condoning the use of illicit drugs is not the answer.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke as well as at least five other council members oppose the opening of the South Philly injection site.
A second site is expected to open soon in Kensington.
Safehouse plans on holding a community meeting next week ahead of the South Philly opening. The date and location are still being determined.