Philadelphia nonprofit offered lease in Kensington for safe injection site

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia nonprofit planning to open the country's first site where opioid users can use drugs under medical supervision has been offered a building in the Kensington section of the city for a lease of $1 a year.

Where sirens are the anthem on neighborhood streets, the nonprofit Safehouse is negotiating the lease on Hilton Street near Allegheny - the epicenter of the opioid epidemic.

That announcement came early Thursday morning from former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

"We got a beautiful building, essentially given to us for a dollar a year," said Rendell.

The Robert Nicoletti Family Trust is offering up the property that advocates say is in a commercial area, but Kensington residents argue otherwise.

"I'm not against it, but I'm against it here," said resident Gilberto Gonzales. "There are at least five schools within walking distance; this is no place for a safe injection site,"

"I don't think this is anything our neighborhood needs. If anything our neighborhood needs a recovery shelter," said Kensington resident Karen Brown, who was clutching her son close by as she walked through Kensington and Allegheny.

Brian Russell said he's been using heroin on and off for nine years and would benefit from having a safe space to inject.

As for those who say 'not in my backyard,' Russell remarked, "It's already in their backyard worse than ever now."

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It's a controversial concept the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania pumped the brakes on when it filed suit last month, questioning where the non-profit's plans were legal.

While that plays out in court, the debate continues.

"Seeing people with needles sticking out of their neck, that doesn't bother you? Your kids are stepping on needles, that doesn't bother you? Put them somewhere where they can use," said recovering opioid addict Alan Levine.

"That's not what this neighborhood needs. It's already enough addicted," Brown said.

Safehouse is still raising money to open the site, which they hope to do by the end of the year, but not without a fight from those who live here.
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