Seattle can’t find suitable location for supervised injection site, plans to go mobile

Seattle’s efforts to find a location for its one and only supervised injection site has turned up nothing, and now the mayor’s office is looking to go mobile. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Seattle’s efforts to find a location for its one and only supervised injection site has turned up nothing, and now the mayor’s office is looking to go mobile.

Jeff Sakuma, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s point person in finding a site, told a committee of the city council Thursday that there are no city or county-owned buildings that meet the criteria for an injection site, or what the city calls Community Health Engagement Locations or CHELs.

Similar to Insite in Vancouver British Columbia , it’s a place where heroin users get all the necessary items to inject heroin, and do so under the supervision of a nurse, and without prosecution.

RELATED | A day in the life of a drug-injection center in Vancouver, B.C.

“We've exhausted what we've looked at and determined there wasn't anything truly viable to move forward,” Sakuma, the mayor’s health strategist, told three members of the Housing, Health, Energy and Workers’ Rights Committee.

He said the $2 million the council had set aside is to low to purchase an existing building or buy land and build a CHEL, plus it doesn’t serve the immediate need the council is looking for.

Sakuma also said that a private party that could partner with the city to allow the use of their property as an injection site, "could be subject to seizure by the federal government." The fear is the Justice Department led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions could order the seizure because of illegal drug use on the property.

As an alternative, the mayor’s office is now proposing a fixed mobile option.

Seattle & King County would purchase a recreation vehicle and remodel it into a CHEL, comparable to what a fixed location would offer.

The mobile CHEL would park either on the street or in a parking lot near a facility that would provide space for a reception area, a waiting area, restroom storage and utility space.

“The mobile site would travel to one location and one location only each day, the same location,” Sakuma told KOMO News

It would require leasing parking spaces or acquiring a street use permit, allowing the RV to remain on the street. There would also be a need to lease adjacent space for treatment counselors, social and health care services and “low-barrier buprenorphine services."

“It has to be located outdoors where we currently have outdoor drug consumption,” Sakuma told KOMO News. “We are taking that outdoor activity and bringing it indoors.”

Exactly where has not been decided said Sakuma. The city has said in the past that highly probable areas for a site include Capitol Hill, Belltown and Pioneer Square.

The estimated cost to buy and retrofit the mobile facility is $350,000.

The City Council has made a one-time allocation of $1.8 million for a CHEL. The ongoing costs of a mobile facility are estimated to be between $1.5 and $2.5 million after the first year.

The committee did not take any action on the plan, but indicated it would like a community outreach to begin in mid-July.

The mayor’s office estimated a mobile injection site could be on the streets in six months.

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