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Seattle coffee shop owner fights needle exchange on troubled stretch of Aurora Ave.

A Seattle coffee shop owner is embroiled in a dispute with a neighboring community center that wants to start a needle exchange. (Hannah Kadletz/ photo)

Should a non-profit that helps drug addicts and prostitutes along a rough stretch of Seattle’s Aurora Avenue be allowed to start a needle exchange? If the owner of a neighboring coffee shop has his way, the answer is no.

The owner of Lylas Family Espresso at the corner of Aurora Ave. North and N. 90th St is drawing plenty of attention after posting a sign reading “1 ounce of good is not worth a pound of harm to the community. Tell the Commons to stop.”

The sign is in reference to the Aurora Commons, a church-based gathering place for drug addicts, alcoholics, the homeless and others to come together for support, meals and links to community services.

“The Aurora Commons provides a safe place of hospitality along Aurora Avenue where we seek to grow the relational capacity within our neighborhood so that, as we care for one another, we may share space, resources and the fullness of life,” says the group on its website.

But the owner of Lylas, who asked us not to name him to protect his privacy, argues the Commons is not living up to its mission and has become a magnet for troubled people and problems.

“When the original opening of the Commons came up, I was under the impression that it was a community center where people were to be helping people,” he tells KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.

But he says things have changed, and the Commons is now bringing “less desirable” people back to a community he says he and neighboring businesses have spent years trying to clean up. “And these are the people we have pushed away from the community up here because there’s been trouble.”

The owner says he has had a number of run-ins with people frequenting the Commons, including one woman who “went ballistic” in his shop, prompting him to call police and get a restraining order.

“The individual kept coming back around and every time the Seattle Police Department would show up here to resolve the situation, a lot of time the Commons would in turn say ‘No, she’s not here’, and the patrons would say ‘No, she’s in the bathroom and you guys are hiding her.'”

The owner says he’s not opposed to what the Commons is trying to do by providing a place for struggling people to gather (it was opened adjacent to a 12-step fellowship hall that hosts recovery meetings,) especially since he himself is a recovering addict and alcoholic. But he argues the organization and the place are causing more harm than good.

“I believe that you’ve got people next door that are trying to do what they feel is best for everybody, but they’re doing it with blinders on. They’re not seeing the full spectrum of the effect that the small amount of good they’re doing for these individuals can have a direct negative impact on the community as a whole.”

When it comes to a needle exchange recently proposed for the Commons, he’d rather see it offered at one of the health clinics around nearby North Seattle Community College, rather than next to his business or the fellowship hall.

“Myself and a lot of people have been involved with this corner of Aurora over the last 15 years and we’ve done a lot to make it a safer area for everybody, not just the businesses,” says the owner. “When I put the establishment in, it wasn’t about making money, it was about providing a safe family environment for people to come to.”

And he says that means not bringing even more troubled people into an area plagued over the years by prostitution, drug dealing, and other crime.

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