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Chelsea Substance Abuse Treatment Center Moving to FiDi, Angering Residents

 Exponents founder Howard Josepher defended his substance abuse treatment center before a crowded CB1 meeting.
Exponents founder Howard Josepher defended his substance abuse treatment center before a crowded CB1 meeting.
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DNAinfo/Irene Plagianos

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A longtime Chelsea substance abuse treatment center is moving to the Financial District this month, leaving some residents worried it will hurt the community.

Exponents, a voluntary, outpatient facility that treats drug and alcohol abusers — as well as ex-convicts transitioning back into life outside of prison, and those suffering from HIV or AIDS — is slated to relocate to 2 Washington St. on Jan. 17.

Howard Josepher, the nonprofit’s founder, told CB1's Financial District committee Wednesday night that his 19-year-old center was forced to move from its 150 W. 26 St. location because of rising rents.

While Jospeher said the center wanted to be a “good neighbor in our new neighborhood,” he was faced with a heated crowd, with some residents saying they feared his clients would bring crime into the area, and others saying center was being “shoved” onto them, without enough notification before opening.

Exponents Opening in FiDi
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“You like to come to a neighborhood to destroy it," shouted Harry Poulakakos, a longtime Financial District restaurateur who owns Harry's Cafe and Steak.

The center, which treats about 60 people a day and doesn't dispense medication, has never had any criminal incidents, Josepher said.

CB1 members, however, challenged him, saying he couldn't know whether the center would bring more drug dealers to the neighborhood, to prey on the recovering addicts.

Jennifer Hansen, director of marketing for The Learning Experience, a daycare center that sits next to Exponents’ new home, also decried the move. 

She said the daycare is building a new outdoor playground, and having this treatment center next door is “just one more thing to worry about."

Some CB1 members, however, were more measured in their reaction to the facility. They said they didn’t doubt the benefit of Josepher’s programs, but were concerned that they hadn't received enough notification.

According to a new state law, substance treatment centers must notify local community boards if they plan to open in a neighborhood, as part of their state and city approval process.

The law stemmed from a methadone clinic's controversial attempt in 2011 to open a center in the Financial District, which local residents stopped with intense community pushback.

Josepher notified CB1 of his plans on Dec. 27 in accordance with the new law, in advance of submitting his proposal to state and city agencies in early January.

The lease for the space was signed in July, he said.

Josepher still needs approval from the city and state to run his substance abuse program, which, he said, constitutes about 10 percent of his budget. In the meantime, he can run his other wellness programs when he opens.

CB1's Financial District committee unanimously voted against the center's opening, which will be forwarded to the city's Department of Health.

"I'm not opposed to your program, but this feels like it was done in secrecy," said committee co-chairwoman Susan Cole. "We're upset by this process — we feel you are shoving this at us."

It remains unclear what will happen if the center does not get approval for its substance abuse treatment program, which may take months, but Josepher said he is still set to open.

"We were really quite surprised by this NIMBY-ism," Jospher said after the meeting. "I know we're doing good work, and it's not right to assume that people in this neighborhood don't need these programs, this help."