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Councilman declares war on heroin, neglects Kensington and Fairhill

Councilman Oh wants to get your input on the opioid epidemic. But you might have to take a bus to the meeting.

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City Council has — at last — declared war on the city's well-documented opioid crisis, going so far as to dub 2016 "The Year to Combat the Heroin Abuse Epidemic in Philadelphia.”

The war’s sponsoring Councilman At-Large David Oh kicked off the campaign Monday night at Northeast High School with the first of seven community meetings. The goal is to get input from 75 to 100 people in different areas of the city, which will help inform some more policy-based combat against the drug crisis.

The remaining six meetings are slated for North, Northeast, Northwest, West, and South Philadelphia. Are you upset about the ongoing heroin problem in your community? Has your family been ripped apart by prescriptions or the needle? Come on out and have your voice be heard.

Unless you live in the most heroin-ravaged neighborhood in the city. In that case, check the bus schedule.

I’m talking about West Kensington and Fairhill. The Badlands, if you will. The area that's home to a tent city for transient drug users, where stray bullets fly between dope dealers on the regular, and every year, invariably, some child trying to be a child in the streets gets pricked with the wrong end of a hypodermic needle — this is where Councilman Oh won’t be holding a meeting about the heroin epidemic.

The closest meeting spaces are in Northeast Philadelphia or Olde Richmond. To be sure, both areas have seen opioids do some serious damage to their communities. But in many ways it's apples to oranges when we talk about the West Kensington-Fairhill borderlands. The neighborhoods are a prime destination for heroin users from every zip code in the city and then some in the suburbs.

Oh’s staff said they couldn’t find a suitable venue in time.

“We talked to a couple of rec centers closer to the Fairhill section, because we know that it’s the worst hit,” Matthew Pershe, a spokesman for Oh’s office, said by phone Tuesday. “But there just weren’t venues we felt could hold 75 to 100 people...It was more about the venue and not the neighborhood.”

City Council members can use the city’s rec centers free of charge. Oh’s office reached out to McVeigh Recreation Center at D and Ontario Streets, which was available, but its biggest room could only hold 40 or 50.

They also reached out to public schools — like Edison High School and the somewhat nearby Horatio B Hackett Elementary — but these cost money to rent, and the evening hours are more expensive, according to Pershe.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, whose district encompasses Kensington and Fairhill, was not part of the planning process. She nonetheless attended Oh’s first meeting on Monday night outside of her district in Northeast High School. (Pershe said that this public school was willing to eat the cost, but others weren’t.) About 30 or 40 people showed up, Quiñones-Sánchez said. The conversation was “intense.”

“It was clear last night that there are a lot of different obstacles other just the addiction itself,” she said. “Some of the stories I heard last night I hadn’t even heard before.”

The bureaucratic ins and outs of recovery were a shocker. For example, Quiñones-Sánchez said there were stories about recovering drug users getting pushed out of treatment programs for a reason as simple as not having a proper identification cards with them.

It’s things like this that make such public hearings invaluable, and all the more confusing why Oh hasn’t scheduled one in West Kensington or Fairhill.

Quiñones-Sánchez said she’s open to the idea, but she doesn’t have the time to plan it herself.

Here's a list of the remaining public forums:

Monday, April 25: Northeast Philadelphia (Kleinlife, 10100 Jamison Ave)

Wednesday, April 27: Manayunk/Roxborough (Venice Island Performing Arts & Recreation Center, 7 Lock St)

Thursday, April 28: River Wards (Maritime Academy Charter High School, 2700 E Huntingdon St)

Monday, May 2: North Philadelphia (Philadelphia Recovery Community Center, 1701 W Lehigh Ave)

Thursday, May 5: West Philadelphia (University of the Sciences, 636 S 42nd St, Pharm Tox Building, Room 140)

Thursday, May 12: South Philadelphia (Palumbo Recreation Center, 700 S 9th St)

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