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Seattle considers mobile safe injection van

King County has operated a mobile medical van for the area's homeless population for years. Seattle added a second second van in 2016. (King County)

Seattle council members are looking to get around the dilemma of where to place a safe injection site by making it mobile.

RELATED: Council member hears good news about injection sites and runs with it

The city is now exploring what Human Services Department spokesperson Meg Olberding describes as a “large mobile medical van.” The issue was discussed at a June 7, 2018 council committee meeting.

The van would be akin to the medical RVs the county and city currently use to serve homeless residents. KIRO 7 reports that they will be much larger, however.  The option is referred to as “fixed-mobile.” A medical van would park at a fixed location, but return to a secure location every night.

“It is an option where we would actually lease or go into an agreement regarding a fixed site, and then with that, we would have a mobile van,” said Jeff Sakuma, a health strategist with Seattle’s Human Services Department. “… this is potentially a very large vehicle that we would then house the consumption activity in.”

The mobile van would offer consumption booths and recovery space. According to Q13, the safe injection van would cost about $350,000; along with $1.8 million to get the van set up, and $2.5 million to operate it. Seattle has already set aside some money for a safe injection program and the van could be paid for from those funds.

“Obviously, there will continue to be concerns about the neighborhood, security of the neighborhood, about other activities happening in the neighborhood, so we would want to make sure we provide a safe area, not only for the neighbors but for the individuals who are using as well,” Sakuma told the council.

The mobile option faces a similar issue that a fixed site does — where to park it. One thing is clear, the council doesn’t want to wait much longer. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said that she favors purchasing a van. The city would then conduct community outreach for potential locations.

“Every day we don’t move forward, people are at risk for overdose and death, so with that in mind and with this sense of urgency for the third time this year alone that you have heard us express this, I am calling on our mayor and our county as a whole to act with urgency so we can move forward this year,” Mosqueda said. “We have the resources in hand; we have the support from the broad public, and we have data-driven solutions.”

“This is a data-driven, public health harm reduction model that is proven to be effective at saving lives and getting people into treatment,” she said.

The city will spend the next two months considering potential locations to park the van. Officials favor a private lot, and note that most drug activity happens around SoDo, downtown, and the west side of Capitol Hill, according to KIRO 7. The city did consider buying property specifically for the van, but found that it was “cost restrictive” inside Seattle.

Beyond the safe injection van

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw went beyond the issue of a safe injection van to discuss how other cities operate similar programs. She pointed out that some safe injection sites provide drugs for users.

“I hear from some of my most vocal opponents, that they don’t want their tax money going into buying drugs for people,” Sally Bagshaw mentioned before Sakuma quickly reminded her that Seattle’s safe injection program does not propose to provide drugs. People would bring their own.

“But I have heard of some other models where drugs are provided,” Bagshaw said. “And that’s a public safety model. Because those who may not have the money to buy drugs are not breaking and entering to obtain whatever they need to buy whatever it is they are using. I would like to explore this. Not to say we are going to land anywhere on the issue. But part of what we are trying to do is reduce crime as well.”

Bagshaw and Sakuma both stressed that there is no proposal to supply drugs to addicts through the safe injection plans, or otherwise. Bagshaw, however, would like to explore the idea.

This article originally attributed Jeff Sakuma’s quotes to Dr. Jeff Duchin. Sakuma is a Seattle city official who spoke about the mobile injection site issue with the council committee on June 7, 2018.

 

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