Menu Close

Nation’s First Safe Injection Site Worsen Quality of Life Issues in Harlem

On November 2021, the nation’s first safe injection site was unilaterally placed in Harlem without community consultation. Sadly our concerns of worsening quality of life and safety issues came true. On this page, the Greater Harlem Coalition shares our observations of the negative impact to the neighborhood. Since then, we proposed adjustments to the pending bill (S399/A383) that aims to legalize such site in New York State to add 6 safety guardrails to these sites and launched a petition to support the effort. Click on the two photos below to learn more.

(1) HOW YOU CAN HELP: sign the petition on and other ways to help

The issues

In November 2021, The Greater Harlem Coalition received the unwelcomed news that Mayor De Blasio had located the nation’s first safe injection site (SIS) in Harlem. He did this without consulting the local community (see this video) and he ignored East Harlem’s Community Board 11’s moratorium on additional addiction treatment and harm reduction services. 

The location of the site is highly problematic because the SIS site –126th Street, bordering East and Central Harlem on Park Avenue –  is across the street from a Pre-K school and Head-Start school for East Harlem children, operated by Association to Benefit ChildrenAll together, within two blocks of the site are 3,921 residents in 1,753 units of housing and 4,250 students in 7 schools, most of whom are people of color, many living in low-income housing.  In other Whiter, wealthier neighborhoods, this choice of location would certainly be deemed inappropriate for any adult establishment.

These students and residents had already been profoundly impacted by drug/street activity spilling over from both of New York City’s largest methadone clinic serving 1600+ patients each week operated by Mount Sinai, as well as from one of NYC’s largest needle-exchange programs operated by New York Harm Reduction Educators.  Compounding this drug treatment oversaturation is the M35 bus that brings 1200+ adult-only shelter residents from Ward’s Island to East Harlem every day. A few block to the south is a cluster of Single Residence Occupancy (SRO) housing provided by Department of Mental Health for individuals with serious mental health and addiction issues.

The stealthy, unilateral  decision to locate the SIS, still an illegal operation based on both Federal and State law, in our neighborhood prompted fierce community opposition. See the complaint letters from the community board and Greater Harlem Coalition and the protest organized by the community on 11 December 2021.

Drug dealer sitting in front of the safe injection site
2022 Harlem residents protest about fair share after the safe injection site was installed

A year later the Negative Impact is Clear

A year has now passed, and the concern among Harlem residents that public drug use would surge has sadly come true ; the safe injection site exacerbated the existing safety issue, drawing in even more dealers and users from outside the community  – lured by the perception that there are no prosecutorial consequences for flagrant open air  drug dealing and using. Some evidence:

  • Feb 2023: The A-B-C school across the street from the Drug Consumption Site pleading for help: See youtube recording here. Also, see above photo showing the pre-K school had to install bullet-proof glass windows.
  • Reporting by reflected feedback from many Harlem residents regarding worsening safety on our streets and the impact on our children: NY Daily News, NY Post, The City, Fox News
  • Neighbors documented worsening public drug use scene within a few blocks (see videos on Instagram)
  • March 2023: City Council Member Gail Brewer raised concerns over the quality of life issues associated with the site in a budget hearing. See recording.
  • April 2023: New York Post documented active drug dealing near the two Drug Consumption Sites.
  • April 2023: Harlem business organization and 28 precinct attributed worsening safety conditions and new drug dealers to OnPoint on New York Times
  • Read the comments on our petition for why neighbors sign the petition to ask to remove the Drug Consumption Site

What is clear is by packing social services excessively in one district, effectively turning the district into a containment zone, destroys local community. (see this post)

Another alarming observation is the unwillingness for the media to report the negative impacts experienced by Harlem, while the safe injection site, backed by powerful non-profit organizations such as Drug Policy Alliance, and supported by funding from city council members, is able to employ a avalanche of public media campaign to broadcast their one-sided points of views to the American public. The one sided views inconsistent with observations by Harlem residents can be seen in OnPoint’s public testimony in San Francisco describing how “amazing” the site is as perceived by the public. It cannot be further from the truth.

Our proposed solutions

From this 1 year of experience, we know this safe injection site should be removed from Harlem unless 3 conditions are satisfied :

  1. The government opens these sites in majority of New York City’s 59 community districts in all 5 boroughs
  2. Reduce the excessive concentration of other social services in Harlem unwanted by wealthier whiter neighborhoods, e.g., drug treatment and harm reduction programs and adult only shelters
  3. Vastly increase funding to mitigate negative community impact of the site. Currently the funding needed for each site is grossly under-estimated as it is expensive to remediate the impact on the nearby community.

For any lawmakers in the nation considering legalizing the safe injection site, we hope you can learn from the failures of this safe injection site, more successful models in Europe and Canada, and embed these requirements below into the law that sanction such site —> Read our detailed proposed adjustments to the current bill here.

Key research articles:

What can you do to help? (learn more here)

  1. Sign our petition:
  2. Write on the Senate and Assembly website to oppose this law (S399/A383)
  3. Write to the sponsors of the bill directly – Senator Cordell Cleare, Senator Jose Serrano, Assembly Member Al Taylor, Assembly Member Inez Dickens.


  • 18 October 2021: Meeting of Community Board 11 Human Services Committee where Dr. Cunningham presented the benefits of overdose prevention center. But assured Harlem residents no locations has been picked.
  • 20 October 2021: Testimony from Dr. Cunningham to Department of Health
  • 7 November 2021: Opening of the overdose prevention site
  • 11 December 2021: Protest in Harlem organized here, and subsequent news reporting here.
  • 12 December 2022: Greater Harlem Coalition issued its response to safe injection site one year anniversary and response to proposed bill to sanction such sites in New York State (Bill S603A224)
  • On 21 March 2023, Greater Harlem Coalition testified at City Council against the site as it stands currently (see written statement and video)
  • On 27 April 2023, New York Times cited Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and precinct 28 of their concerns of the drug consumption site

News Coverage: