PHILADELPHIA - South Philadelphia residents, including city officials, made sure their voices were heard as they opposed plans to open a safe injection site during a Wednesday morning press conference.
Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was among a group of officials who addressed the crowd as they discussed their plans to open a site the nation’s first supervised injection site next week.
In a final ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh said the Safehouse proposal does not violate federal drug laws because the intent is to save lives, not encourage drug use.
Wednesday morning’s press conference featured testimony on the potential impact of a safe injection site from individuals whose lives have been impacted by addiction. Rendell also took to the podium to explain why he decided to get personally involved in the cause.
“1,000 people-plus have been dying for the last three years in Philadelphia. Think about that,” Rendell said. “The murder rate soars over 300 and everyone goes crazy. The murder rate is out of control, 300 of our young people are dying. Well, three and half times that many people die of opioid overdoses.”
While most thought the nation's first site would open in the epicenter of the city's opioid crisis - Kensington- Safehouse officials say there’s an overdose death weekly in South Philly, and Mayor Jim Kenney sees the need.
"It’s in their backyard already. It’s one of the areas in the city that has the highest use of opioids and heroin," the mayor explained.
“Philadelphia, like the nation, is in an overdose crisis. We have the highest death rate of any big city in America,” Safehouse board member Ronda Goldfein said Wednesday. “Three times that of Chicago which is number two, and five times that of New York which is number three.”
While many South Philadelphia residents have opposed the idea of a supervised injection site in their neighborhood, they have also been frustrated with the way the plan was revealed to the public.
“You blindsided us. You blindsided South Philly,” one outspoken resident said during the press conference. “You never came into our community. You never talked to us. You don’t come to our meetings. When we had a meeting about crime, where were you to tell us about what is going on?”
Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla also spoke up about the process in which the plans were presented.
“We have questions and people calling our offices – we don’t know the answers, and that’s not fair. Whether you support the site or oppose the site, what was done here was a horrible disgrace to the city of Philadelphia. It’s not a part of democracy,” Squilla said. “This is wrong, this is not helping addicted people, this is not helping people who live in those communities."
Safehouse officials say they hope to address the community’s concerns in a future meeting.
“The goal is to bring the consumption inside. We understand that your children shouldn’t ever have to walk over people publicly consuming and the goal is, if it’s not outside, then it’s inside,” Goldfein explained.
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