Courtesy of Lowell PTA: A pathway along Lowell Elementary was closed in September 2016 and remained that way for more than a year due to issues of discarded needles and unsanctioned camping.
Courtesy of Lowell PTA: A pathway along Lowell Elementary was closed in September 2016 and remained that way for more than a year due to issues of discarded needles and unsanctioned camping.

The 2018 budget passed by the Seattle City Council on Monday included $1.3 million in funding for opening a safe consumption space in the city, with Capitol Hill the most likely neighborhood for it.

VOCAL-WA has been a longtime advocate of safe consumption spaces, and has been working with the Capitol Hill Community Council to educate and gather support for siting an SCS in the neighborhood.

VOCAL-WA and CHCC worked together last year to bring a SAFE SHAPE Exhibit to Seattle, showing how a drug consumption site might work.

VOCAL-WA coordinator Patricia Sully said during public comments at Monday’s Seattle City Council meeting that it was 14 years ago that former councilmember Nick Licata talked about the need for a safe consumption space in Capitol Hill.

“It’s been 14 years since a councilmember first brought this up,” she said, “and there’s been thousands of deaths, thousands of incarcerations, thousands and thousand and thousands of incidents of harm.”

The King County Board of Health in mid-January unanimously approved a final report by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, which recommended piloting two Community Health Engagement Locations (CHELs) — one in Seattle and one outside the city.

There were 229 heroin and prescription overdose deaths in King County in 2015. Heroin succeeded prescription opioids as the primary cause of opioid overdose deaths in 2013, according to the task force report.

Marlys McConnell, a member of the Yes to SCS campaign, told the city council about her son, Andrew, who died from a heroin overdose on Jan. 6, 2015. He was 27.

“Andrew wanted very much to find recovery,” she said, “and he had hopes and dreams for his future like most of us do.”

Andrew entered treatment six month prior to his death, McConnell said, adding the stigmas surrounding heroin users had an effect on her son.

“He felt trashy,” she said. “He felt stigmatized and he felt ashamed, and I feel convinced that played a part in his death.”

Sully said it was critical to retain the $1.3 million in the city’s 2018 budget to create a safe consumption space.

Councilmember Rob Johnson sponsored the budget item, which started at $500,000, rose to $800,000 and ended at $1.3 million.

“He’s good at finding ways to fund things that don’t do harm to other priorities,” said Lisa Daugaard, executive director of the Public Defenders Association. Vocal-WA is a membership-project of PDA.

The SCS is being funded through the general fund by taking several capital projects out and covering the expense by using the city’s bonding authority, or “sweeping pennies into a dustbin,” Johnson told the Capitol Hill Times.

Daugaard and Johnson both said they felt Capitol Hill was an obvious choice, both for its community support and the need.

“It’s a place where we see folks using in unsafe locations,” Johnson said.

At a recent Broadway Business Improvement Area meeting, it was announced that more than 400 needles had been removed from the corridor so far this year. Seattle Public Utilities reports it has collected and disposed of more than 32,000 hypodermic syringes throughout the city as part of its Sharps Collection Pilot Program that started a little more than a year ago.

Safe consumption spaces would enable people to come inside to take heroin under medical supervision and discard their paraphernalia safely, with access to overdose treatment that includes naloxone and oxygen.

The sites would also offer connections to basic medical treatment, medication-assisted treatment, detox services and inpatient and outpatient treatment and case management.

Daugaard said it would be best for the SCS to be sited on a government-owned property, as it would be less risky if Attorney General Jeff Sessions tries to shut it down. Seattle could be the first city in the country to have a site like this open with local funds.

“Finding government-owned pieces of property, particularly in Capitol Hill, may be a high bar for us,” Johnson said, “but we’re open to other concepts.”

Johnson said he put up a statement of legislative intent that asks the city to work with the county on siting the SCS, and a recommendation is expected to be provided to the city council by the end of February.

“This is one that’s popular enough that I imagine it will come to committee, but it doesn’t have to,” he said.

The $1.3 million doesn’t cover operational costs for the SCS, which Johnson said is estimated at $500,000-$600,000 annually.

Daugaard said King County is currently budgeting $500,000 in supportive financing.

Sully tells the Capitol Hill Times VOCAL-WA and CHCC will continue public outreach and education in the neighborhood about what safe consumption spaces are and what they are not.

“I think Capitol Hill is a very natural location because, of course there is a significant amount of outdoor drug use,” Sully said, “and it’s a location where we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the neighborhood.”

There are posters that have been created that individuals and businesses can hang in their windows to show their support, Sully said, and distribution of those is expected to start after the holidays.

The Yes to SCS campaign is having a volunteer night 4-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at 110 Prefontaine Place S., Suite 502.