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Group Calls for Moratorium on new Drug-Related Programs in East Harlem

 The organization wants to stop any new drug-related programs from moving to East Harlem and any exisiting program from expanding within the neighborhood.
Harlem Neighborhood Block Association
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EAST HARLEM — A group is calling for a moratorium on drug-treatment programs in the neighborhood, saying the area already has enough rehab centers after becoming a magnet for such facilities.

The Harlem Neighborhood Block Association said East Harlem is oversaturated with centers that attract people from other parts of the city, Westchester and New Jersey.

“There is no reason one community should carry the brunt of the burden,” said Robert Perkins, a member of the block association. “Why not drop off some of the people here, some off at 96th Street and some at Gracie Mansion?”

Apart from a large homeless shelter on Wards Island, East Harlem has 22 drug-treatment programs, four homeless services providers and four transitional-living facilities, according to the group. The moratorium on new centers would also apply to all service and care programs, as well as preferential residential, clinical or out-service facilities.

These services attract homeless people and drug addicts who use the neighborhood as their public bathroom, members said. They drink and smoke in public, overfill trash cans with garbage and turn areas under the Metro-North tracks into camps, Perkins said.

On Thursday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito led several commissioners of different city agencies on a walkthrough of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue to talk about quality-of-life issues affecting the area.

"For decades, East Harlem has housed programs for people in recovery and facing other challenges," she said in a statement. "However this community has carried a disproportionate share of social services and it's time for the whole city to share in the responsibility of helping New York's most vulnerable populations."

The Harlem Neighborhood Block Association has also come out against a plan by Odyssey House — which has two facilities on 121st Street and a substance-abuse treatment program on Wards Island — to convert a vacant building into a 20- to 23-unit affordable and special-needs housing facility.

The Odyssey House is in the early stages of development and it insists that the building will not house a drug-treatment program. It will have permanent single-occupancy units for people making between $15,000 and $25,000, spokeswoman Isobelle Surface said.

The special-needs housing portion will be reserved for people with mental health issues, she added.

Surface declined to comment on the proposed moratorium because she was unfamiliar with the details, but said Odyssey Houses gives back to the community by hiring locals and offering community groups with space to meet and host events.

But Derrick Taitt, who lives across the street, fears that the single-occupancy spaces will go to drug addicts and that the special-needs spaces will attract more homeless people from other parts of the city.

“A more useful purpose would be more affordable housing for working families or housing for seniors,” he said.

Other drug-treatment facilities, including Palladia, Addicts Rehabilitation Center, and the Bailey House did not respond to questions about the moratorium and what their facilities contribute to East Harlem. The city's Department of Homeless Services also did not respond to questions for this story.

The block association is made up of homeowners, business leaders, renters and investors. More than 1,000 people have signed its petition to stop any new centers from opening in the neighborhood.

While they are not opposed to people receiving services for health issues, they believe East Harlem has become a magnet for all of the tri-state area’s drug addicts, Taitt explained.

"Why should we be known for being the area that handles everybody else's drug problem?" he asked. “These people have no vested interest in the neighborhood. It would be different if they were individuals from out of the community, but they are from other parts of the city, from other states.”

The block association has teamed up with the New East Harlem Merchants Association and the 25th Precinct to clean up the area. But as long as there are more drug-treatment centers, the neighborhood's problems will not go away, Taitt added.

East Harlem’s most blighted area should really be a bustling commercial center, said block association member Tracey Greene.

There are several bus routes and subway lines that stop at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, which  connects Manhattan to Queens and The Bronx. But the homeless problem has scared away potential investors, he said.

“This should be one of the hot spots of uptown,” he said. “There’s so much potential.”