Northpointe Council, Inc. Announcement Raises More Questions Than Answers

The outrage that began to brew this past winter over the Northpointe Council, Inc.’s plans to relocate their methadone clinic at 606 6th Street is about to rise to a fever pitch again. On Tuesday, June 7, Northpointe’s Executive Director Dan Shubsda, in a defiant interview appearance on WGRZ-TV, suggested that the organization’s plans for the clinic would move forward at the downtown location, walking distance from this area’s largest tourist attraction.

Shubsda utilized scare tactics to suggest that any more roadblocks would lead to deaths. “Five people on the waiting list have died,” he lamented. “We can’t wait any longer.” The current plans are to expand the operations to serve more than 300 clients who are suffering from addictions due to use of heroin or opioid pain killers.

The opiate addiction rate has reached epidemic proportions nationwide, with Niagara Falls facing a particularly bad situation as many batches of heroin here are being laced with lethally potent doses of fentanyl.

While Shubsda’s concerns appear valiant on the surface, questions still remain regarding why this location is so important to them and why the clinic’s operators stubbornly refuse to consider alternative sites.

This expansion has clearly been in the works for over two years. However, the city’s Director of Community Development Seth Piccirrillo continues to hold out that this location will become a BOCES training center within the city’s limits. At the May 31 council meeting, Piccirrillo went so far as to discuss how the city has been working “in good faith,” as he reiterated, to help Northpointe Council, Inc. expand their clinic operations at the Niagara Business Center at 1625 Buffalo Avenue, a location near downtown, on a bus line, and close to the Grand Island Bridge, yet not within a residential area.

Northpointe isn’t having any of it, according to Shubsda, who believes that the time to move into this space would lead to “more deaths.” Whether or not these individuals would have still died with treatment remains unclear, as the actual cause of these deaths was not stated. It should be further noted that there are no guarantees that someone receiving methadone treatment will not still overdose. In fact, there are conflicting studies that suggest that methadone dependency is hard to kick and can still lead to OD deaths.[i]

Councilman Kenny Tompkins had suggested in February that he would assist in helping Northpointe secure a location in the Valu Plaza near Packard Road, away from residential areas. The freshman councilmen also offered to arrange a meeting with Dick Hastings, who owns many empty properties on Main Street that could provide a viable alternative. “They rejected these ideas outright,” Tompkins said. “They wouldn’t even entertain any other option. I don’t understand why they are against finding a new site given that we as a city have clearly conveyed that the 6th Street location is not in the best interest in terms of our city’s vision of creating safe communities for people to live, work, and play.”

Could this all have been prevented? The time frame on what city officials knew and when were they made aware of the clinic plans is murky at best. Sources point to the fact that since Councilman Charles Walker and Corporate Counsel Craig Johnson both sit on Northpointe Council’s board, red flags should have been raised long before the clinic’s operators and Ellicott Development Co., owned by William Palladino began to discuss leasing arrangements. After all, a methadone clinic in the heart of a residential neighborhood into which millions of HUD dollars are being invested, one that is this close to the city’s most viable tourism sector, hardly fits into the City of Niagara Falls 2009 Comprehensive Plan for this area, especially one that emphasizes “Enhancing the Tourist Experience.” In fact, this proposed-clinic site is directly amidst the Park Place Historic District and other historic areas for which many residents are lobbying to create a vacation rental industry, one that would truly benefit the city by providing more tax revenue, something the non-profit clinic cannot provide. Again, how will this impact what could be a true effort to revitalize this city?

While Shubsda persists in stating that he met with block club presidents and other community leaders regarding the plan to move the clinic from its current base at the former Trott Vocational School (and immediate to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center campus), none of these stakeholders have met with anyone from Northpointe. In fact, those in the surrounding areas are still vehemently opposed to a methadone clinic in their backyards.

To add more fear, sources have reported that Northpointe will have armed guards inside of the building to protect their staff. If this is a concern for those inside, why should residents in neighboring homes feel the least bit secure? If individuals who have spoken out about the rise of crime associated with bringing addicts into neighborhoods (ranging from homes broken into to muggings and home invasions) have been admonished as “alarmists,” then why do clinic staff need armed protection? This question has yet to be answered by Shubsda.

As far as the where the addicts live, Shubsda has maintained that their reasoning for locating this site in this 14301 neighborhood is that they “want to be close to their clients.” However, the actual number of those on the waiting list who live this zip code has not been disclosed and previous reports have suggested that the expansion intent is to serve addicts from across Niagara and Erie county. As residents of this area ask: “Why are we always inheriting other towns and cities problems? When is enough enough?”

“I know that the need for opioid addiction treatment is tremendous in this area—there is no doubt about that,” said Tompkins. “But neither I nor any else who is committed to rebuilding Niagara Falls to its former glory can, in good conscience, agree that this location for the clinic is acceptable. It mystifies me why Northpointe is unwilling to move forward with other options proposed. As an elected official, I will stand with the residents.”

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