Philadelphia offers suggestions on how West Kensington residents can help drug users from Conrail cleanup

As Conrail cleans up the tracks that were once a haven for heroin use in Philadelphia’s West Kensington neighborhood, the city says residents can help with the next step to get drug users into treatment.

Over 20 residents and activists attended a community meeting Tuesday night at an apartment building for seniors across the street from the Conrail tracks. The focus was on the work to help the countless heroin users caught in the cycle of addiction, and the meeting included presentations from the Philadelphia Fire Department, Philly 311, and the city’s behavioral health services.

Joanna Otero-Cruz, the city’s deputy managing director of community services, said one of the goals of the meeting was to reduce stigma around addiction and empower neighborhood residents to get involved in the outreach efforts.

“We have to do a better job to really help our neighbors and be more empathetic to the disease,” Otero-Cruz said. “I think that we do that through education, and also providing individuals tools that they could have handy in their home if indeed they want to help.”

Otero-Cruz says these tools include calling 311 when residents see drug users displaced by the Conrail cleanup start to shoot up or take up residence on their streets. She says 311 receives relatively few calls from the neighborhood despite a greater need for services in the area.

“We need those reports to come in,” said Otero-Cruz. “It would help us truly do a better job of coordinating services, rather than being scattered.”

The city provided an update to the community members gathered at the meeting on its outreach to drug users. Outreach teams roaming the area around the Conrail tracks have brought about 120 people into treatment since May 8th, according to the latest figures. But they’ve encountered about 600 drug users there since that date, so there are many more who haven’t yet accepted help.

One local resident who attended the Tuesday night meeting said that the city’s briefing suggested to her that it needed to put more effort toward bringing drug users into treatment.

“It’s more numbers and questions into my mind,” said Charito Morales, a nurse who advocates for people struggling with addiction near the Conrail tracks.

In spite of the efforts of outreach teams, she said, “we have more problems right now outside.”

“I’m raising my family here, and I want to see [a] better community for the future,” Morales said.

 

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