1-on-1 with Mayor Kenney on Safehouse's plan to open safe injection site

As a nonprofit continues with plans to open the nation’s first supervised injection site in South Philadelphia, residents and city officials alike are battling over the decision.

On Tuesday, a U.S. District Judge ruled that Safehouse’s proposal to open a supervised injection site does not violate federal drug laws because the intent is to save lives, not encourage drug use.

By Wednesday morning, Safehouse officials had organized a press conference to announce plans to open their first site in South Philadelphia as early as next week. At that press conference, organizers were met with harsh pushback and criticism from South Philadelphia residents, as well as city council members.

On Thursday morning, U.S. Attorney William McSwain announced he had filed a notice of appeal on the ruling on Wednesday and was requesting a stay to the district court’s final ruling to prevent the nonprofit’s site from opening next week.

Safehouse plans to open the nation's first supervised injection site in early March.

Throughout the process, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has been supportive of the idea of supervised injection sites in the city of Philadelphia.

FOX 29’s Jeff Cole caught up with Mayor Kenney to talk more about the issue and the claim that Safehouse and the city snuck the site into South Philly without warning or any public testimony on Thursday morning. 


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During the five-minute interview, Mayor Kenney stood by his previous support of supervised injection sites, while pointing out that the city did not choose the location. He went on to add that he was “supportive of people not dying of drug overdoses” as he noted that a  31-year-old man died of an overdose near the proposed site Wednesday afternoon.

The mayor also talked about the stigma that comes with treating addiction.  

“The issue is that people who are addicted to narcotics, that get to heroin, are no different than anyone with high blood pressure, or diabetes, or cancer,” Mayor Kenney claimed. “We don’t question the fact that people go for treatment for these diseases. This disease is a disease, and South Philadelphia is the second-highest location for this disease.”

You can read the full transcript of the interview below, or watch it in the video above.

Jeff Cole: Don’t the people of South Philadelphia have an argument here? In Kensington, where it was considered to be there were public hearings, there was public testimony? It simply did not happen in South Philly and won’t happen until this facility opens.

Mayor Jim Kenney: Well, first of all, the city didn’t choose this spot. It was chosen by a non-profit organization.

Cole: But you’re supportive of this spot?

Kenney: I’m supportive of people not dying of drug overdoses. As a matter of fact, yesterday at about 5, 6 o’clock last night, a 31-year-old man died of an injection from a drug overdose across the street from this facility. If that facility had been opened the odds of him being there and being saved may have happened.

Cole: But their argument is the 501 (c)(3), Safehouse, did not warn them for a moment before they simply decided ‘we’re going to place it there’. They have an argument that there was no warning.

Kenney: I didn’t know that I was going there until about 2-3 weeks ago. We were waiting for the judge to make his ruling, which he did. The issue is that people who are addicted to narcotics, that get to heroin, are no different than anyone with high blood pressure, or diabetes, or cancer. We don’t question the fact that people go for treatment for these diseases. This disease is a disease, and South Philadelphia is the second-highest location for this disease.

Cole: When they told you 2-3 weeks ago you could have stopped it, though? You didn’t want to stop it?   

Kenney: No I don’t want to stop it. I want to keep people alive. We had 1,200 people die last year. 1,100 the year before… No, 1,200 last year, 1,100 this year, and 800-900 the year before.

Cole: But they do have an argument that they had a right to know beforehand, do they not?

Kenney: Yeah. I was not involved with the non-profit, so I didn’t know what they were doing as far as community outreach. There are lots of organizations that do things to help people get better that don’t necessarily have public meetings about it.

Cole: Some argue that the reason why it’s being placed there is because the nonprofit was not able to raise enough money to develop the kind of site that would have gone to Kensington with far higher demand. They put it there because it was cheaper and the demand would be lower.

Kenney: I have no knowledge of their financial situations. No knowledge of any of that.

Cole: The other argument that you are hearing now from city council members is that it’s already zoned there. That’s an easy place to put it in there.

Kenney: It’s a hospital. It’s a medical facility and people are going there for medical treatment and this is part of the treatment of dealing with this disease of addiction. 

Cole: Kensington though mayor… Now why shouldn’t that have been the first spot? Wouldn’t you have wanted that?

Kenney: I think there will be one in Kensington at some point in time. I want it wherever it’s needed to keep people alive.

Cole: Clearly Kensington is that place.

Kenney: Again the city is not sponsoring it, is not running it. We are providing resources, services for people with addiction. We are providing security, but we are not running the operation.

Cole: Are you concerned though, that the rollout of something as important as you believe this obviously is, has not been good. It really was rocky yesterday.

Kenney: I wish it was done differently, but it is what it is. Again, that 31-year-old guy died yesterday and he could have been saved at that facility.

Cole: Will the city have as many as 20 sites as they’ve talked about.

Kenney: I’m not aware of the number of sites they’re talking about.

Cole: Would that be too many?

Kenney: Wherever it’s needed is not too many. Again, 1,100 people died in 2019.

Cole: If the U.S. Attorney attempts to arrest Safepoint people, as he has threatened to do - if he goes in there with federal agents and begins to arrest – what do you believe about that?

Kenney: It’s up to him to make that decision.

Cole: Wouldn’t you find that wrong? If he were to arrest people?

Kenney: I don’t agree with that approach, but that’s up to him, he’s a federal authority.

Cole: But you would oppose it?

Kenney: We’re not going to intercede if the FBI or U.S. Attorney’s Office decides to arrest people, our Philadelphia Police will not intervene.

Cole: Wouldn’t you urge him not to do that?

Kenney: I would urge him to do a lot of things, like dealing with gun violence. I think their time would be better spent dealing with guns, and drug interdiction, and human trafficking than they are dealing with this. 

Cole: If he moves on Safepoint people delivering those services, you would not intervene there?

Kenney: No. They have the jurisdiction to do what they want to do and we would not put our police in a position to intervene.

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