Safehouse vows to take more community input on supervised injection site plans

A group of leaders from the local community speak out against plans for a supervised injection facility during a community meeting at the Heitzman Rec Center on Thursday night. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

A group of leaders from the local community speak out against plans for a supervised injection facility during a community meeting at the Heitzman Rec Center on Thursday night. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

The directors of the nonprofit that wants to open a supervised injection facility in Philadelphia told outraged residents in Kensington Thursday night they wouldn’t move forward with plans to open a location in the neighborhood without further input from the community.

Safehouse made the pledge before a raucous crowd of several hundred people who filled the gymnasium at Heitzman Recreation Center to hear the group address the community for the first time since news broke that it had found a potential site on Hilton Street.

“We have no intentions to sign a lease until we can continue some community conversations,” said board member and Vice President of Safehouse Ronda Goldfein.

Goldfein said she had hoped to have a “greater public conversation” before residents learned through the media that the group was eyeing the Hilton Street location. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who is on the board of Safehouse, told reporters at a conference in Washington, D.C. in late March that a developer, whose son recently died from an overdose, offered a building in the Kensington area for a lease of $1 a year.

“I understand why you are angry, and we apologize. It was not our intention,” said Goldfein.

A long list of elected officials also spoke, united in their opposition to the proposed facility, including State Sen. and mayoral candidate Anthony Williams, who showed up to once again stump against supervised injection facilities.

Also in attendance was U.S. Attorney William McSwain, who listened quietly in the back of the crowd. McSwain has sued on behalf of the federal government to have Safehouse’s proposed facility deemed illegal, and Goldfein told community members she wouldn’t try to open a site before the case was resolved.

The community members in attendance overwhelmingly opposed Safehouse’s plans, and seemed unmoved by the group’s assurances. Dozens took the chance to voice strongly-worded opposition to the plan, with many saying they disagreed with the very idea of a site where people could use drugs under medical supervision.

“It’s ridiculous what they’re even trying to do,” said Joe Capriotti, a resident from the nearby Port Richmond neighborhood. “Everything is wrong with it.”

Safehouse representatives said that if they opened in Kensington, it would be a temporary two-year lease until it found a location that was more palatable to neighbors. That could be in a medical facility, Goldfein said, as some residents and elected representatives have suggested.

Goldfein didn’t specify how the community engagement would proceed, but said she would seek input on a process from the Harrowgate Civic Association, which hosted the meeting. Leaders from five other local civic associations joined Harrowgate in expressing opposition to a supervised injection facility in their communities.

Safehouse was also looking to open additional locations throughout Philadelphia, including a Center City site, Goldfein said.


Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct the proper title of Ronda Goldfein.

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