May 16, 2024 - News

Fairmount residents organize to halt drug treatment facility

Illustration of a welcome mat that says "Unwelcome."

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Fairmount residents are organizing to stop Mayor Cherelle Parker's administration from operating a drug treatment center at a shelter in the neighborhood.

The big picture: The Parker administration wants to spend $100 million to open triage facilities across the city to service people experiencing addiction and homelessness.

  • It's part of the mayor's crackdown on open-air drug markets, which got underway last week when the city forced people living in an encampment in Kensington to leave.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that the Fairmount shelter at 2100 W. Girard Ave. was among the sites for Parker's new triage centers. But it remains unclear whether it's one of the planned facilities, and city leaders and neighbors say they've been left in the dark.

Driving the news: Hundreds of Fairmount residents flocked to a community meeting Tuesday night at the City School, peppering two of Parker's top officials with questions about its plans for the Girard Avenue site.

  • The meeting comes days after resident Bradley Mayer started a petition seeking to halt a proposed drug treatment facility in the area and raising concerns about the lack of community input. The petition has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

Catch up quick: The administration told residents at the Tuesday meeting that it added about 100 beds to the facility, which is usually near or at capacity.

  • City spokesperson Joe Grace told Billy Penn the additions are "part of the continuing effort to build out a comprehensive system of long-term care, treatment and housing" in Philadelphia.

Residents who attended the meeting tell Axios that they received puzzling answers from the administration, which has said it plans to run a "wellness center" at the location.

  • They say they were told no drug treatment services would be provided there, though they believed it's possible that could change.

Meanwhile, the city has begun offering wound care at the center, residents say they were told at the meeting.

  • Some suggest that could indicate they're treating people with wounds caused by the use of the powerful sedative xylazine, which can cause skin-rotting sores.

The intrigue: In recent weeks, residents tell Axios, security and police presence has increased near the facility, and that a fence was installed around the building's rear perimeter.

  • They say they've also noticed an increase in trash and drug paraphernalia around the building, as well as people who appear under the influence.

The Parker administration didn't return Axios' request for comment.

Zoom in: Project HOME, a homelessness outreach group, and Prevention Point, a social service organization that provides clean syringes to people who use drugs, were reportedly helping staff the facility, per the Inquirer.

  • A Project HOME representative confirmed the organization has staff at the facility. Prevention Point didn't respond to Axios' request for comment.

What they're saying: Residents are concerned the facility could hurt their home value.

  • "This is a neighborhood that has put a lot of work into itself to be safe," longtime resident Adrienne Hamilton says. "This is really going to hedge that feeling of safety."

Kellyann Beene, of the Fairmount Civic Association, tells Axios that residents fear Fairmount could become "Kensington 2.0" if city officials don't outline long-term plans for the center.

  • "They made it sound like they don't have a grand plan for this place," she said. "It's very loosey-goosey."

What we're watching: Council member Jeffery Young, whose district includes the Fairmount facility, has introduced legislation that would prevent the city from extending the building lease, which expires in 2026.

  • Young tells Axios that he feels "disrespected" by the Parker administration not notifying him of their plans ahead of time and that he's since received little clarity from the city about the site.
  • He says he'll do whatever is in his power "to protect my district."
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