Op-Ed Published on worsening conditions in Harlem

Greater Harlem Coalition has published this Op-Ed on New York Daily News describing the impact of excessive number of methadone clinics in Harlem. Please help forward to your neighbors and elected officials to raise awareness

Although the opioid epidemic led to a 200% increase in overdose deaths in New York State from 2010-17, even before the sharp rise last year during the COVID pandemic, medical strategies to address Substance Use Disorder (SUD) haven’t substantially changed in decades. In New York City, the state Department of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) relies on approximately 70 Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) that primarily dispense methadone.

National Institutes of Health research shows that opioid treatment is most successful when it is available locally, but OASAS data on the distribution and attendance of treatment programs in New York City show a systemic overconcentration of OTPs in majority Black and Brown neighborhoods. Harlem is particularly oversaturated, with eight OTPs in a five-block radius of 125th St. and Park Ave. More than 75% of patients being treated in Harlem live elsewhere and commute into the neighborhood from elsewhere in the city, and even from Long Island and Upstate New York. Since successful treatment negatively correlates with distance from a treatment site, OASAS’s decision to concentrate treatment centers in Harlem is clearly not based on patient welfare.

Profit margins, instead, seems to be the major factor that has led to Harlem becoming the city’s “methadone hub,” primarily through three OTP providers: Mount Sinai (which absorbed Beth Israel’s many OTPs during their merger), Kaleidoscope and START, who benefit from Harlem’s relatively inexpensive real estate. And given the economic and political advantages that accrue from expanding an existing facility, OTP capacity in Harlem has continued to increase over the years, leading social services to refer more patients to Harlem, leading to more increases, and so on, with full approval from OASAS.

This hyper-concentration of drug treatment resources in Harlem unfairly burdens the patients who have to travel up to six days a week to get their medication. It also burdens area residents and businesses. Along much of 125th St., used needles lie in gutters and on the sidewalks; people nod out and use doorways as toilets. Drug dealers operate openly, taking advantage of this concentration of vulnerable patients. Small businesses suffer from a lack of foot traffic and high rates of shoplifting. Restaurants note that customers often report being uncomfortable and do not return. New businesses are reluctant to open in the neighborhood when they see the street drug dealing and use.

And Mount Sinai is now planning to relocate its CARES program, an education program for at-risk kids (with mental and addiction issues), from Morningside Heights into the middle of this methadone hub — another decision that seems unlikely to benefit the clients.

Some believe that this kind of oversaturation is part of Harlem’s identity. In reality, the neighborhood’s history of compassion for people who are working through difficulties is being exploited. OASAS and Mount Sinai’s relentless concentration of treatment facilities in this neighborhood of color is simply medical redlining. Wealthier and frequently whiter communities are rarely asked to shoulder their fair share of vulnerable OTP patients.

It’s past time that this problem be addressed. While the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act currently under consideration at the federal level would increase Medicaid reimbursement for helping those struggling with drug abuse and make alternative forms of treatment more readily available, it is expected to do little to alleviate Harlem’s burden unless more direct actions are taken.

New York State must take responsibility for the oversaturation and adopt measures to address it without further delay.

First, to allow a systematic assessment of whether treatment programs are being fairly situated, OASAS should publish data on addiction and overdose rates, capacities, services, locations of drug treatment centers in each district, and audit reports and verified complaints should be made publicly and easily available.

Then, the state should move OTPs that exceed the demonstrable need of the neighborhood into other, less serviced, neighborhoods in each renewal cycle. When homeless shelters or environmental hazards are unfairly clustered in relatively poor and powerless parts of the city, we call it racism.

Input from community organizations, local government officials and government agents such as police and social workers regarding the impact of OTPs on their neighborhoods should also be made public and included when considering license renewal.

And more weight in OTP placement decisions should be given to New York City officials. The mayor’s office and the City Council, in turn, must commit to redressing this inequity.

If the officials of New York State and New York City are committed to rooting out systemic racism, they must also commit to distributing social services equitably. No community should be asked to do more than its fair share — or allowed to do less — regardless of its economic, political or racial make-up. We should have tremendous compassion for those struggling with drug addiction, and part of that compassion should be ensuring that services designed to help them are close to their homes.

Hill and Asberry-Chresfield are founders of The Greater Harlem Coalition, a grassroots organization focused on improving quality of life.

GHC on NY1 Noticias

Greater Harlem Coalition members Claudia and Monica were interviewed on NY1 Noticias regarding the degradation of quality of life in East Harlem due to the oversaturation of methadone facilities that do not manage the street drug use and loitering of their patients before and after treatment.

For the full video, see:

https://www.ny1noticias.com/nyc/noticias/noticias/2021/04/13/vecinos-de-east-harlem-se-quejan-del-alto-numero-de-clinicas-para-tratar-adicciones

Is Bill Perkins Fit For Office?

A long-overdue article in The City highlights the mental deterioration of Bill Perkins.

For years now residents and political insiders have known that Perkins is a shell of his former self. The magazine City & State, for example, noted that Perkins was New York City’s least responsive and least active of all 51 Council members.

The incompetence of Perkins office was well known, but many refused to speak publicly regarding how his staff worked to continue the illusion that Perkins was able to work and serve. The City article, however, has spoken to a number of City Council colleagues who noted that Perkins’ health challenges are

“the worst kept secret in the New York City Council,” said one Council member who serves with him on a committee.

In the article, Syderia Asberry-Chresfield noted that:

“Sometimes he recognizes me. Sometimes he does not,” she said. “I’ve known him for decades now.”

The tragedy for Harlem is we’ve essentially not had representation at City Council for 4 years now. Bill Perkins has, according to the article, been shuffled by his staff from Zoom to Zoom, not really knowing what’s going on.

Three Council members who spoke with THE CITY on condition of anonymity said Perkins would often wander into closed-door meetings, or show up to the wrong committee hearing, or at the wrong time.

“There’s no question he isn’t all there,” said another Council member.

Keith Lilly, Bill Perkins’ long-time aide, seems intent to prop Perkins up, despite the damage an apparently mentally disoriented Council Member has done these last 4 years, and the future damage he might do if elected.

Keith Lilly is quoted as saying:

“I’ve got him. I’m carrying him. He’s on the petition, so I don’t have no problem with him at all. Most people don’t,” he said before quickly ending the call.

Residents push back against construction of methadone clinic

The Columbia Spectator reports on another methadone program being placed in Harlem and quotes from Shawn Hill, one of GHC’s co-founders.

“The opioid addiction is a national crisis. It transcends class; it transcends race; it transcends gender; it transcends geography; and yet time and time again, the location of those facilities is not transcending those factors. The location is always in low-income communities of color,”

The article refers to a new, Argus run methadone program, licensed by OASAS, and located on West 145th Street.

https://www.columbiaspectator.com/news/2021/02/23/residents-push-back-against-construction-of-methadone-clinic-claim-harlem-is-oversaturated-with-clinics/

Patch: Results so far of Mayor’s Recent Visit to 125th Street

Thanks to concerns you have passionately made to our Mayor, elected officials have taken some actions to mitigate the unacceptable quality of life issues on 125th street and its vicinity.

(Update since this post below. Patch reported on Dec 29 that East Harlem 125th Street conditions have improved, but work remains)

Harlem neighbors,

Thanks to concerns you have passionately made to our Mayor, elected officials have taken some actions to mitigate the unacceptable quality of life issues on 125th Street and vicinity.

At the Community Board 11 meeting 3 days ago, NYC Council Member Diana Ayala’s aide updated us on the outcome of the Mayor’s 125th Street visit, as reported by Patch on Nov 10 this year.

  1. 125th street will be power washed everyday unless temperature drops below freezing point;
  2. Increased density of police officers plus homeless services agents patrolling the 125th Street area. Subsequently, a few minor arrests were made related to sale of drugs such as K2;
  3. Requested lighting on the sidewalks to improve safety and discourage loitering around the former Pathmark site under construction on 125th between Third Ave. and Lexington;
  4. NYC Council member Diana Ayala created a working group to meet with relevant agencies to tackle this problem on an on-going basis. This group first met on Dec 15. OASAS (Office of Addiction Support and Services) graced us with an appearance at the meeting at the requests by Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly member Robert Rodriguez. Sadly, OASAS’ mere presence was considered a victory of sort due to its years of refusal to engage with Harlem officials and the GHC.

In the same meeting, Community Board 11 Vice Chair Xavier Santiago announced that at the next full board meeting on Jan. 26, CB11 intends to review and approve a resolution to formally request government agencies to reduce the number of harm reduction services in East Harlem. Please be sure to join us on Jan 26 at 8pm by registering here.

Your voices have made a significant impact in drawing officials’ attention and led to some tactical actions. Keep up the “good noise” to bring attention to the entrenched issue in Harlem and to call for a sustainable long term plan.

How can you make your noise heard?

  • Forward this post to your network
  • Like GHC on Facebook and twitter to get updates from us
  • Attend community board meetings
  • Become a community board member by submitting an application before Feb 1st here

Read some of the letters GHC and our members have sent to elected officials:

Uptowner: GHC’s case against Mount Sinai Expansion in Harlem

November 2019, the Uptowner quoted multiple GHC members critical of Mount Sinai’s plan to expand in Harlem on West 124 Street.

Community Leaders, Residents Say Proposed Clinic Overloads Harlem

Image for post

Advocates and residents have grown frustrated with Mount Sinai’s plan to open an outpatient clinic in 2021, bringing approximately 2,400 clients with histories of addiction and mental illness to West 124th Street. Neighborhood groups and tenants have taken to the streets in protest.

“It’s not that Mount Sinai is trying to do horrible things,” says Shawn Hill, co-founder of The Greater Harlem Coalition, created last year to combat the clinic. “We just cannot bring any more vulnerable people into our neighborhood that are susceptible to the illegal drug trade.”

Continue reading the post here

Manhattan Times: Oversaturation in Harlem

Barbara Askins, 125th St. BID

November 2019, Manhattan Times interviewed Barbara Askins, Greater Harlem Coalition member and President and CEO of the 125th Street BID (125th Street Business Improvement District), and Nilsa Orama, Chair of Community Board 11 (East Harlem), who both complained about the dense concentration of harm reduction facilities in a confined area on 125th Street and argued that community boards should have more say in where drug treatment centers get placed.

“Shawn Hill, Co-founder of the Greater Harlem Coalition (GHC), argued that 75 percent of patients in Harlem’s opioid programs are not Harlem residents. The advocacy group … seeks to have a moratorium on additional or expanded addiction and substance abuse programs or facilities in Harlem.

See the full article here.

CBS News: Oversaturation of Harlem has attracted illegal drug sellers

CBS News story on how the Oversaturation of drug clinics in Harlem attracts scores of illegal drug sellers

Last night the co-founder of The Greater Harlem Coalition, the President of MMPCIA, and other concerned residents from our community were featured on CBS News. The article explored how the oversaturation of substance abuse programs in Harlem and East Harlem has attracted scores of illegal drug sellers who prey on the men and women seeking addiction help.

Drug deal W. 124th St between Lenox and ACP

The CBS reporter was shown photographs, and video evidence of how the OASAS licensed programs fail to monitor or supervise their clients before or after treatment, and turn a blind eye to the drug selling and using that is occurring steps from their programs.

Residents complained about how Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo have tolerated the decline in public safety in our community and failed to address it – in sharp contrast to the Mayoral response to complaints from the Upper West Side.

The powerful coverage features a number of our visualizations from the data that prove our claims.

When asked to respond to the issue of oversaturation and our deteriorating quality of life, the Mayor’s Office gave a non-response and avoided addressing the question:

Click here to see the full segment:

Patch: Mayor De Blasio Visits 125th Street

Sunday’s visit by Mayor Bill de Blasio came amid complaints about drug use and filthy sidewalks along East 125th Street during the pandemic.

On Sunday, Mayor Bill DeBlasio visited 125th Street with Council Member Diana Ayala amid complaints about drug use and filthy sidewalks along East 125th Street during the pandemic.

Mayor spoke to Councilwomen Diana Ayala

According to Uptown Grand Central, the mayor brought along:

a powerhouse team made up of the commissioners of @NYCHealthy, @NYCSanitation, @NYCDHS, @NYCHRA and @NYCParks. And to Councilmember @DianaAyalaNYC for leading the charge:

To read more about media reports, click here

Patch: GHC’s Letter to Mayor De Blasio

(Harlemites, your voices have been heard! GHC’s letter to the Mayor led to some short term improvements on 125th Street. Here are a few updates since this post on October 2012: (1) Nov 10, Our letter prompted Mayor to visit 125th Street (2) Dec 18, Councilwomen Diana Ayala gave an update on changes made by Mayor (3) Dec 29, Patch reported on improvements made on 125th Street, but work remains to be done)


See original report on Patch on October here

Dear Mayor de Blasio: 

The Greater Harlem Coalition is a group of like-minded residences and business owners more than 6,000 members strong that are organized and politically active.  We are tired of the politics of old that have done nothing to improve our quality of life, business opportunities, and the overall positive growth of our community.    

We are writing to request your immediate response for improving public safety and mental health assistance, reducing homelessness and substance abuse, and increasing trash removal in Harlem.  

Drugs are being sold openly around Harlem to the homeless, methadone patients, and others.  You see streets awash with needles and other drug paraphernalia between Frederick Douglass Blvd and Lenox Avenue along side streets from 124th to 117th Streets; a year ago, this was not the case.  Because of the increased drug trafficking in our community, we have seen an increase in crime, such as robberies, stabbings, and shootings.   

We all have empathy for the homeless and much more needs to be done to help them.   However, some of the homeless are blocking sidewalks, threatening people that don’t give them money, and encroaching on the personal space of others during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the homeless need mental health assistance that is not being provided by the city.  We have been complaining to you, and other elected officials, for years about the need to address homelessness and mental illness in our community, and no elected official has done anything to resolve these problems on our behalf. 

Yet in a matter of months, your office not only addressed the issue of homelessness and mental illness on the Upper Westside, but you actually moved the homeless and the mentally ill from the Upper Westside to other parts of the city.  African-American and Latino communities have been fighting the oversaturation of methadone clinics, and housing of the homeless and mentally ill for decades, not months, and nothing has been done to help us. 

Trash has always been a problem in Harlem, but it’s now much worse. No one is cleaning the sidewalks and streets of Harlem beyond merchants, building owners, and homeowners; if they don’t clean sidewalks along their properties, the city issues them tickets.  Yet, the city does nothing to clean city managed space.  The city makes people move their cars several times a week, and some days no street sweeper even comes by.  But if you move your car a few minutes late, you are guaranteed a ticket. 

To curtail increases in crime, instances of homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, and trash, we are requesting the following:·     

* Cross agency coordination with the 28th Precinct and all necessary city agencies; the Office of the District Attorney, the Department of Homeless   Services, the Department of Sanitation, the Department of Youth and Community Development, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene·     

*  An increased police presence in identified high crime and open-air drug areas·     

*  A moratorium and reduction of methadone clinics in our community via legislation·     

*   An increase of police patrol cars and drug surveillance equipment for the 28th Precinct·     

*   Increased funding for neighborhood youth programs·     

*   A designated point person within your office to coordinate with city agencies to implement overlapping responses and who will work with us   continuously, not just once. We will be working with others across the city that have the same concerns, and messaging collective action to help not just Harlem, but other communities of color.  We hope you will work at reimagining how government works to solve long standing problems, because whatever you are doing now, is not working.  A government’s response to resolving problems should not be based on your zip code, but based on need.  We need your help, and we have yet to receive it. We, as a community, await your reply. Sincerely, 

118 Street Block Association
120th Street Block Association
128th Street Block Association
1775 Houses Tenants Association
97-98 Lexington & Park Ave. Neighbors
A. Philip Randolph Square Neighborhood Alliance
A.K. Houses Tenants Association
Advocates 4 The Community
Cafeine
Chaiwali
CIVITAS
Columbus Distributors
Compass Realty
Dorrence Brooks Property Owners & Residents Association
Elaine Perry Associates
Ephesus SDA Church
Freeland Liqour
Friendly Hands Ministry
Friends of the Harriett Tubman Monument
Gastiaburo + Stella Real Estate
Ginjan Cafe
Graham Court RentersGreater Calvary Baptist Church
Halstead Manhattan
Hamilton Terrace Block Association
Harlem Lofts
Harlem Park to Park
Harlem Properties Inc.
Harlem Shake
Harlem Wine Gallery
HarlemHome
Heart to Heart Community Outreach
Il Cafe Latte 1
Il Cafe Latte 2
Jacqueline Allmond Cuisine INC
Lenox to 5th 124th Street Block Association
LenoxFive 127th Street Block Association
Malcolm Pharmacy
Mirada Home Owners Association
Neighbors United of West 132nd Street Block Association
New York Council for Housing Development Fund Companies, Inc.
Paris Blues Jazz Club
Progressives Educating New Yorkers, Inc.
R. Kenyatta Punter and Associates
RDV
Sayers and Doers
Silicon Harlem
SottoCasa Pizzeria
Sugar Hill Concerned Neighbors Group
The 100-168 West 121st Street Resident Block Association
The Harlem Neighborhood Block Association
The Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association
The new 123rd Street Block Association (Lenox – ACP)
The United New Church of Christ
The West 130th Street Homeowners Association
The West 132nd Street Block Association
Union Settlement House
Uptown Townhouse
Valeries Signature Salon
West 119th Block Association
West 121st Street Block Association
West 126th Street Block Association
West 135th Street Block Association
West 136th Street Block Association
Wynn Optics   

CC:       Andrew Cuomo, Governor, New York            Dermot Shea, Police Commissioner            Edward Grayson, Acting Commissioner            Joslyn Carter, Administrator            Dr. Dave Chokski, Health Commissioner            Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President            Brian Benjamin, NYS Senator            Robert Rodriguez, NY Assembly member            Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President            Scott Stringer, NYC Comptroller            Shaun Donovan, Mayoral Candidate            Alvin Bragg, NYC DA Candidate            Tali Farhadian Weinstein, NYC DA CandidateInspector Brown, 28th Precinct            Shatic Mitchell, CB10 District Manager            Dean Baquet, Executive Editor, NY TimesRobert York, Editor, NY Daily News            Michelle Gotthel, Editor, NY Post            Melanie West, Jouranalist, WSJ            Nick Garber, Reporter, Patch