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Methadone clinic OK’d for Lower West Side

Over the vehement objections of both neighborhood residents and Erie County officials, the state has decided to grant Hispanics United of Buffalo and Acacia Network a conditional license to operate a clinic that will dispense methadone to heroin addicts.

The state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Service, in a letter dated Wednesday, notified the clinic operators that it is granting a conditional certificate of operation for the clinic to be run out of Hispanics United’s headquarters at 254 Virginia St. The letter said the decision was made, in part, after more than 60 community meetings had been held to discuss the proposal with nearby residents.

“It did not happen. Those 60 meetings did not take place,” said Thomas E. Gleed, a West Tupper Street resident, who Thursday labeled the assertion “a fabrication.”

Gleed and other members of the Virginia, Edward, Trinity, Tupper, Elmwood Block Club, or VETTE, insisted that they initiated the only community meeting that the clinic operators have had with residents. That was just over a month ago.

Prior to that, many have said, they were completely unaware of Hispanics United’s plan to operate a clinic that would dispense methadone to recovering heroin addicts. That, despite the fact that operators said plans for the clinic had been in the works for two years.

The Bronx-based Puerto Rican Organization to Motivate, Enlighten and Serve Addicts, or PROMESA, is the entity to which the state granted the conditional certificate of operation. Raul Russi, its CEO, said the clinic operators did hold 60 community meetings over a two-year period.

“There were some block clubs there that we didn’t know were there, but were there. So for that reason, specifically, we didn’t reach out to some of those,” Russi said Thursday.

While Russi took credit for arranging Hispanics United’s meeting last month with the VETTE Block Club, Gleed contradicted him.

“It was not a HUB-sponsored meeting. It was VETTE asking for a meeting, and (Russi) was horrified when he saw so many people coming,” Gleed said.

Neighbors opposed to the clinic’s location persuaded both Erie County and the Common Council to go on record opposing the clinic due to concerns that it would attract drug dealers who prey on methadone clients to the neighborhood and that the clients would line up for treatment in the morning near a school bus stop.

After working 20 years to rid their neighborhood of drugs and gangs, residents said, they do not want to see it slide again.

As a former resident and police officer who patrolled the neighborhood, Russi said he worked just as hard to clean up the neighborhood and would not do anything to endanger it.

Last month, a spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said it was unlikely the state would grant Hispanics United a certificate without the county’s approval. Thursday, Poloncarz issued a statement expressing disappointment in the state’s decision to approve the operation of the methadone clinic without the county’s support.

“We continue to believe the site location to be wholly unsuitable for such a clinic. However, now that it has been approved, we will begin to work with concerned residents to minimize any negative impacts there may be on the neighborhood.”

In this week’s letter, the state noted that clinic operators agreed to comply with a number of conditions in order to qualify for its certificate, among them a promise to provide video surveillance around the perimeter of the building and to provide a security patrol.

Russi said that there is a desperate need for the clinic’s services in the neighborhood and vowed that Hispanics United will work closely with residents to ensure that the clinic’s presence is not a liability.

Gleed did not share Russi’s confidence Thursday, despite the conditions agreed to by Hispanics United.

“It would matter more if they followed those conditions in a location that would be appropriate. … HUB was never a medical treatment facility. It was a community center,” Gleed said.

Meanwhile, residents have planned a rally against the clinic for 4:30 p.m. today at Hispanics United of Buffalo. County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, D-Buffalo, who represents the district where the clinic is located, said she will hold a community meeting on the subject Sept. 10.