One of the hard things about advocating for safe consumption sites—spaces where people can smoke or inject drugs—in the United States is that we don't have any examples skeptics can see for themselves. For the next five days, local advocates are hoping to change that. VOCAL Washington, an organization of people affected by the War on Drugs, is hosting a mock safe consumption site at parks throughout the city.
Around the world, safe consumption sites have proven successful, giving people who use drugs a safe alternative to alleys and public bathrooms. The mock setup offers a small-scale glimpse at what those spaces could be like in Seattle.
"We've been doing a lot of talking, but because we don't have any [safe consumption spaces] here, people don't have a visual," said Patricia Sully, an attorney with the Public Defender Association, as she stood outside the display in Westlake Park yesterday. "It's easy for people to jump to really scary ideas or whatever they thought a crack house looked like."
In fact, the display is inviting. Inside a teal, ventilated tent, tables offer supplies for using drugs and a video shows someone injecting in a safe space. A small area mimics a "chill room" where people could rest when they're finished.
"It's designed to be highly accessible and interactive," said Greg Scott, the DePaul University sociology professor and documentary filmmaker who created the project. Several times in Chicago, the tent was open for drug use, Scott said, but will be used for display only in Seattle.
The Seattle exhibit also includes photos and stories of people affected by the lack of safe spaces for drug use. "Drew passed away six years [ago] from an overdose," reads one story displayed near a photo of two smiling young people. "Because of societal responses to queerness, substance use, and addiction, Drew didn't have real options for his own health or safety. Safe consumption spaces will do just that—it will give people real options to sustain their own health and safety. Drew deserved a safe space. We all deserve safe spaces."
The project will appear throughout Seattle and Olympia until Tuesday, and VOCAL members will be on hand to answer questions.
Here's the full schedule:
July 15, noon to 7 p.m., Victor Steinbrueck Park
July 16, noon to 7 p.m., Bell Street Park (Bell St. and 3rd Ave.)
July 17, noon to 6 p.m., 5th Ave. and Franklin St., Olympia (outside Rainy Day Records)
July 18, noon to 7 p.m., Cal Anderson Park
July 19, noon to 2 p.m., City Hall Park (3rd Ave. and Yesler Way)
July 19, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., 12th Avenue Arts (with panel and film screening)