I was driving through North Philly recently when I spotted a woman sitting in the street at Eighth and Dauphin.
It was frigid out, and I was in a hurry. I had put my foot on the gas pedal when it hit me: I was about to leave a woman, about my age, sitting in the street. She looked as high as the proverbial kite. I put the car in park and got out.
I went over and asked her a few questions. Then I gripped her from behind and helped her onto her feet. “Do you live around here?” I asked. When she responded affirmatively, I gave her a little push in the direction of some houses and said, “Go home!” She was staggering north as I drove away.
I felt guilty about leaving her in that state. But I see people like that all the time, in full zombie mode, nodding off on SEPTA, crouching on street corners like they’re about to fall over. We routinely walk around users behaving bizarrely. There’s a stretch of Market Street that I avoid for that reason.
But what do we do about it? Here’s my suggestion. Let’s open up a supervised injection site as Safehouse is proposing. And let’s do it at City Hall, on a temporary basis, at least initially.
There’s a lot of unused space in that building. If employees don’t want the center inside, there’s plenty of space in the courtyard. City Hall has its own security, which could aid in policing things, and public transportation is plentiful. Ideally, it would be better to be closer to Kensington, which has the largest open air drug market on the East Coast, but at least this would be centrally located.
If this is truly the people’s space, creating a safer injection site there would open it up to those most in need.
What I am proposing may sound far-fetched, but many residents in South Philly, Kensington, and Harrowsgate don’t want such a facility near them, where people could use drugs under medical supervision and be revived if they overdosed. We saw what happened after South Philly residents were blindsided by plans to open a supervised injection site at Constitution Health Plaza on South Broad Street. They weren’t having it.
I can’t say that I blame them. I wouldn’t want to live next door to a place where people openly inject themselves with heroin. I would worry about drug dealers gravitating there. I wouldn’t want my kids walking past users. At the same time, I recognize that there is an urgent need for what Safehouse is proposing. Lives are at stake.
“We claim to be a society that cares. We claim to want to change things. We claim to want to help people — until it becomes an inconvenience to us,” she added.
Ouch. Her words sting, but she’s right.
Meanwhile, Safehouse officials have been beaten back into their respective corners to rethink their options. It also doesn’t help that Council on Thursday voted, 15-2, to approve a resolution, written by Councilmember David Oh, condemning the nonprofit’s latest actions and urging the city to put the project on pause.
“I think there are more of us who want to have respectful, meaningful, open-minded dialogue to get at solutions than not,” said Brooke M. Feldman, a social worker who specializes in addiction, who attended the hearing. “I think once initial reactions subside, we’ll be able to move forward."