There’s one thing about the people who run the poverty industry here in Niagara Falls. Whether they’re taking care of the homeless or battered women, generational welfare recipients who make up the majority of public housing residents or dope fiends seeking a daily fix of methadone, the providers of social services here rake in the big bucks.
Whether they are public sector employees or work for the many private, not for profit organizations that are rapidly turning Niagara Falls into a warehouse for the unfortunate, damaged, unemployable and deranged, they’re not doing it out of any feelings of altruism.
They’re doing it for cash. Cold hard cash.
Take a look at the Northpointe Council Inc., the organization that is planning to open a methadone clinic serving as many as 400 hardcore opiate addicts at the former Niagara Falls City School District office building on Walnut Avenue at Sixth Street.
With an operational budget of $3,842,149, Northpointe owes its’ existence to taxpayer funded social services programs, according to its Form 990 federal income tax return.
Working closely with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, Northpointe receives $2,001,868 in direct payments from the government. Much of the rest of the budget is derived from Medicaid payments used by addicts to pay for methadone, a highly addicting substitute for heroin, morphine, oxycodone, Vicodin and other opiates.
And that budget will skyrocket if and when Northpointe opens for business on Walnut Avenue. Currently, the organization operates out of the Trott Access Center, where fewer than 100 addicts can be accommodated. As many as 400, from Erie as well as Niagara counties will be serviced at the new center, according to published reports.
As with all other forms of social services, more clients equals more money in the drug addict maintenance business.
Northpointe is run by Lewiston resident Daniel Shubsda, who earns a healthy $91,489 a year with an additional $8,098 in “other compensation” for a total of $99,587 annually.
That brings him almost in line with the 69 city police officers, firemen and others who earn at least $100,000 a year here, and substantially above the average Niagara Falls household, which manages to scrape by on just $31,531 a year.
Shubsda’s salary is dwarfed, however, by that of Buffalo physician Dr. Thomas Artim, who not only works for Northpointe but also maintains a private practice with the Cleveland Hill Medical Group in Buffalo. What he makes there is anyone’s guess but, according to tax records, Artim pulls down a hefty $192,061 a year in salary and other compensation for his work with Northpointe.
A third employee, Vice President Karen Friedhof, received $61,031 in total compensation, tax records show.
Serving on the Northpointe board of directors is Charles Walker, the senior member of the Niagara Falls City Council, and city Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson. Walker admitted last week that city officials knew of Northpointe’s plans for the Walnut Avenue property as long ago as May of last year, but did not say why the matter wasn’t made public until December, or explode into controversy until after the lease was signed between Northpointe and the building owners, Ellicott Development of Buffalo, this month.
To say that many questions remain unanswered would be an understatement. As it stands, between 200 and 400 dope fiends will be congregating in a quiet residential neighborhood just a stone’s throw away from one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world.
Does anyone think that’s a good idea?
Why, if our senior city councilman and our city attorney knew about this nine months ago, did they wait to say anything publicly until after it was a done deal?
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster told the media last week that he would have rather seen a proposed BOCES nursing school located in the building. Did he know of the Northpointe deal back when Walker and Johnson knew about it? If so, why did he wait until the lease was signed before taking a position?
These questions may never be answered. This is Niagara Falls, after all. A place where a world class tourist attraction and millions of dollars in casino revenue have translated into a poverty so brutal that the only growth industry left in town is that of servicing and caring for the down and outers of every stripe who actually have to live here.