EAST HARLEM — A group of people fed up with methadone clinics in their neighborhood are trying to push a stalled bill through Albany that would prevent clinics from opening within 500 feet of schools, parks and churches.
The bill has been sitting in the state assembly since 2012. If it had passed, several methadone clinics in Harlem may not have opened, according Clyde Williams, a former advisor to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who is behind the push .
“There is nowhere else in Manhattan where they would dump as many things as they do in East Harlem and Central Harlem,” Williams said. ”We don’t have to accept that."
Residents say the methadone clinics, along with various homeless shelters, temporary residency programs and drug treatment facilities, bring drugs and crime to the neighborhood.
"Our children shouldn't be exposed to this," Tracey Greene, a member of the Harlem Neighborhood Block Association, said. "You got people that are laying down outside the school. I got to take my kid to school and step over drug addicts to drop off my kid."
Greene proposed placing a moratorium on drug-related programs in the neighborhood, and said seeing people drink and urinate in public have become a common sight around 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.
Since a town hall meeting last Thursday organized by Maria Cruz, the executive director of the Taino Towers, more than 500 people signed a petition in favor of passing bill A03070.
“Nobody wants to talk about this issue because it’s such a hard issue to deal with," Williams said. "People should be outraged that no elected officials showed up [to the town hall meeting]. They sent representatives but none of the representatives talked about the bill."
District Leader Peggy Morales called on residents to hold their elected officials more accountable by voting.
“There are other communities in New York City that get absolutely everything they want,” she said. “The reason why that happens is not because they are favored, it’s not because they are of a different color, or of a different socio-economic bracket. It happens because these communities actually vote.”
There are nine clinics in Harlem and East Harlem. Six of them are within 500 feet of a church or a school.
This map shows clinics in red, schools in blue and churches in green.
The bill is currently sitting in the State Assembly's Mental Health Committee.
Robert Rodriguez, who represents East Harlem and is a member of the Mental Health Committee, did not respond to questions about the bill, but released the following statement:
"There's no doubt that the 125th Street Corridor down Lexington Avenue has significant quality-of-life issues. There is an over-concentration of services in the area, as people come from all over the city for rehabilitation programs. I will continue to work with OASAS and OMH to come up with siting plans that offer a more equitable disbursement of services, while ensuring services are available for those in need."
A version of the bill was introduced in 1999 but went nowhere.
Staten Island Assemblyman Matthew Titone reintroduced the bill banning clinics from opening within 500 feet of a school or church in 2012, according to Titone's chief of staff.
“Right now you can open up a clinic just about anywhere irrespective of what the surrounding community is composed of,” Titone said. “In Staten Island we have a clinic smack in the middle of a park in an area where the neighborhood has been working for decades to revitalize."
Titone, who has not received a lot of support for the bill, did not know that people in East Harlem started a petition supporting it.
“It’s going to make it easier for me to pick up the senate sponsor,” he said of the petition.