Flying Blind

Where is the Parker administration going with its treatment center plan? 

This May, the Inquirer leaked news that the City was planning to open a drug treatment center at the site of a former nursing home of West Girard Ave. It makes sense, as the building has already been operating as an emergency shelter for single men referred by the Office of Homeless Services. And there’s certainly a need!

Philadelphia is in the midst of a massive housing and addiction crisis that’s overwhelming citywide resources and destroying neighborhoods before our eyes. Mayor Cherelle Parker has budgeted $100 million in triage centers as part of a many-pronged strategy to shut down Kensington’s internationally infamous open-air drug market and surrounding encampments. Is the new facility in Fairmount part of this plan?

The Parker administration won’t say. For now, they’ll only confirm that they added more beds in April and the space currently offers both shelter and drug treatment. That’s basically their idea for getting people off the street, give them a choice: shelter and treatment, or jail. Unfortunately, the city’s Managing Director himself has publicly acknowledged that there aren’t enough beds or trained professionals to handle the need. He told the Inquirer the “continuum of care literally doesn’t exist” – which just seems like a fancy way to say there is no plan, right?

The Inquirer’s sources said the Fairmount facility is operating as a “low barrier” shelter, which usually means they don’t require drug tests or background checks – they’re often a first step for people beginning recovery. According to this source, two non-profits will be staffing it, Project HOME (unhoused support) and Prevention Point (harm-reduction assistance), although neither organization would comment on the matter.

When asked if the new beds were a part of the mayor’s Kensington proposal, spokesman Joe Grace’s response could have been clearer:

“The city is providing existing services at an existing, city-run facility in Fairmount, as part of the continuing effort to build out a comprehensive system of long-term care, treatment and housing for those individuals suffering from addictions to substances, mental health challenges, and those experiencing homelessness as well.”

Also they would prefer we all use the term “wellness center” rather than “triage facility.” 🙄

Ummm… okaaaay… Whatever you call it, Fairmount neighbors are not pleased, and neither is Councilmember Jeffery Young, who represents the area and claims the Parker Administration failed to give him any notice or info about its plans for the site.

“I do not support a triage center at this location without undergoing a thorough review and discussion with the community to address potential implications,” he said at a recent council meeting. “It is unacceptable to undertake such a significant project without consulting the communities and stakeholders who will be most affected.” He went on to propose legislation to grant City Council the authority to subpoena the Parker administration for testimony and documents (unanimously passed May 23rd).

In Fairmount, neighbors posted a petition calling to pause plans to allow for community engagement. Launched on May 7th, so far it’s garnered 1,290 signatures (out of Fairmount’s 10,069 residents). The petition names “increased crime” and “safety concerns” as reasons for caution, and indeed many signers added comments repeating “the very real likelihood” of more crime. People also seemed to believe a drug treatment center would lower property values.

Misinformation Alert: there’s no science that says drug treatment centers have any negative impact on their neighborhoods – they don’t automatically raise crime rates or tank home prices. When well-run, they integrate as seamlessly as any other business. That first part is key, though: when well run. The Parker Administration needs to hear and address community issues. They need to convince neighbors they know what they’re doing, and sell them on the plan.

Back in Kensington, Philadelphia’s housing and addiction crisis spins out of control, as new drugs like “tranq” kill, maim, and tear families apart. The city faces an urgent, complex, and multi-faceted problem that’s going to take an extraordinary coordination of public health, law enforcement and social services with City Hall and, in addition, all of our support as well. As individuals, we need to educate ourselves about what’s going on, and why, and how we can help (or at least get out of the way).

This shit is real! We can do better. Meanwhile, the city just sent 75 rookie cops to Kensington, to begin “active enforcement” – an expensive, time-consuming, and ultimately ineffective strategy for addiction and homelessness. Strap in, folks, looks like we’re in for a turbulent ride…

This article combines Local commentary with a summary of Meir Rinde’s excellent WHYY story published May 15, 2024 and printed in June’s edition of The Local paper though a N.I.C.E. Shared Content agreement. For more information, please click the links in this post.

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