Camden community meeting presses to keep out drug-treatment clinic

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Jasmin Smith, a  mother of four,  fears the proposed move of the city’s lone methadone clinic  from downtown to Bergen Square will hurt her children — and a neighborhood that has been working hard to recover.

“When children are young they’re curious,” she said. “If they see bad things, they’ll be prone to those habits later.”

Smith, 36, of Fairview, is not a resident of Bergen Square, but two of her children, Yasmin, 8, and Yionna, 4, are participants in various programs at the Neighborhood Center and have many friends in that part of town. Her other children, Rickea Bell, 18, and Ricky, 17, both work in Bergen Square. She’s concerned a drug-treatment clinic and the addicts it draws will disrupt her to older children’s daily routines.

Smith’s sentiments were echoed by more than 25 other residents and area businesses owners who gathered at The Neighborhood Center Thursday evening  to increase community awareness regarding Urban Treatment Center’s proposed move. The treatment center  is Camden’s only methadone clinic, and treats about 1,000 recovering addicts per day.

The community meeting was arranged by Vedra Chandler, associate director at the Neighborhood Center and Barbara Kelly, a facilitator for Bergen Square Community Development Center. The two distributed petitions during the meeting, calling for the city zoning board to delay  approval of the proposed clinic site at 6th Avenue and Atlantic Street until residents of Bergen Square are allowed more input.

The zoning board is due to vote Monday to grant a variance  allowing the clinic to be housed in the square.

The Neighborhood Center,  on Kaighns Ave, about a half-dozen blocks from the proposed site,  provides the neighborhood with stability in the form of child care, educational programs, dance lessons and free lunches for more than 100 local families, Chandler said.

Chandler, Kelly and others argued that the clinic’s proposed location is also within an area of high traffic volume, just off of Route 676, calling the location “dangerous” for any pedestrians drawn to the clinic. And they warned that  Bergen Square was  home to an active drug set and  not the right place for recovering addicts.

“It’s time for addicts to get away from the set, not come back into it,” Chandler said to applause.

Kelly said a number of the clinic’s clients come from outside Camden. Both she and Chandler suggested that  the methadone clinic be moved out of Camden entirely.

Michael Donaghue, owner of Industrial Hydraulics & Rubber, and Shawn Burke,  chief operating officer of Sustainable Camden, also  said they were concerned the clinic’s move would  be a detriment to their businesses in Bergen Square.

Event organizers said  representatives of the city and the clinic were invited but did not attend.

Ed Sheehan, an attorney representing the clinic owner, Camden Recovery Holdings, said by phone before the forum that while he commended the Neighborhood Center’s interest in the clinic relocation, he  disagreed the move would be detrimental to the neighborhood.

“I would still suggest that the project is a tremendous enhancement to improve the insecurity of the neighborhood as it would remove an empty lot and create a fenced facility with security officers and 24/7 surveillance,” Sheehan said.

The Urban Treatment Center at present sits directly across from City Hall. The site has been sold to Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors for $1.55 million and is to be  transformed into Rutgers University-Camden’s new school of business.

“It’s almost like those downtown were embarrassed by the clinic and decided to just put it in Bergen Square and thought no one would say anything,” Chandler said. “That’s why we need to go to the zoning meeting Monday and prove them wrong.”

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