Mayor Cherelle Parker is planning an addiction treatment center next to the Philadelphia prison complex

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle L. Parker plans to spend more than $100 million to build an addiction treatment center and shelter that will house more than 600 addicts next to the city’s prison complex in Northeast Philadelphia.

The mayor, who took office in January and pledged to end the city’s open-air drug markets while expanding drug treatment options, unveiled her plan to house residents at 7979 State Rd. on Tuesday to City Council members in a closed-door meeting.

Spokesman Joe Grace said in a statement that the proposal “is the first step of many that the Parker administration plans to implement.”

“The proposal includes targeted enforcement and the provision of high-quality shelter and treatment options across the city for people living on our streets, suffering from addictions, mental health issues and physical illnesses, or unable to find safe shelter and housing,” he said.

Parker contacted the council as lawmakers were approaching the final days of negotiations on the mayor’s budget plan. Its nine-figure request to build so-called triage and wellness centers as part of efforts to dismantle drug markets, became a point of contention for some Council members who previously assessed the plan as imprecise.

” READ MORE: Mayor Cherelle Parker proposes $100 million to fund ‘triage and recovery centers’ for addicts

On Tuesday, Parker and managing director Adam Thiel unveiled a three-year, multi-phase plan build Riverview Wellness Village, which will offer services ranging from counseling to medication-assisted treatment to job training and connections to long-term housing, according to a recording of one briefing for council members obtained by The Inquirer.

During the briefing, Thiel said the facility would be run by behavioral health providers contracted by the city, and described opening gradually so that some of the beds could be ready within the next year.

He said people would be brought to the site by aid workers, adding: “We may have people who are there voluntarily, but we may also have people who are not there voluntarily.”

The State Road property is owned by the city and is located on the Riverview Personal Care Home campus. In 2020, under then-Mayor Jim Kenney, the city pledged to create a “minuscule house village” there for homeless people as part of an agreement with activists who set up a protest camp on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The Parker administration rejected the plan earlier this year, and the mayor has repeatedly criticized the project, noting that the homes would have no indoor plumbing and calling it undignified.

The mayor on Tuesday confirmed the prospect of opening a recovery center so close to city prisons – and one that would be surrounded by a high fence – but said her administration was prioritizing the safety and security of the surrounding community.

“We’re going to have to deal with the narrative that this is criminalizing addiction because this site is adjacent to a prison campus,” she told council members. “In no way, shape or form will I shy away from the fact that this will be a safe facility.”

City Councilmember Mike Driscoll, a Democrat whose 6th District includes the area, said he will work with the Parker administration to keep the area safe and wants residents of the surrounding community to be prioritized for using the center’s services.

Driscoll also said that a community advisory board should be established to evaluate the activities on an ongoing basis.

“If you’re going to create a site, I think in a secure complex like a prison complex, it makes sense to me,” Driscoll said in an interview. “Every council member at some point will say, ‘well, not in my backyard,’ but the reality is that we’re going to have to take some responsibility for this.”

The mayor’s disclosure of her plan to the council stands in contrast to how lawmakers learned of her administration’s plan to transform a homeless shelter in Fairmount into a space where people suffering from substance use disorders can stay. The administration worked with outside vendors to add dozens of beds to the facility, which they described as an expansion of existing services.

In early May, members learned from The Inquirer that city workers and addiction services providers were already working at the facility at 2100 W. Girard Ave., and residents were outraged that they were not given a chance to express their opinions. The news came as the administration was preparing to clear an encampment in Kensington, site of the city’s largest open-air drug market.

At the time, The Inquirer reported that the city intended to use the Girard Avenue space as a triage and wellness center — language the administration used in budget documents to describe its $100 million addiction relief plan. A group of City Council members previously used similar language to describe a place where people could be referred for treatment or, potentially, face criminal charges for drug possession or nuisance crimes.

The Parker administration has since stopped using the phrase “segregation centers.” A spokesperson said in a statement that they are now calling what they are building across the city a “wellness ecosystem.”

Inquirer writers Sean Collins Walsh and Max Marin contributed to this article.

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