After all Anita Rodriguez and her neighbors did to take back the Lower West Side from drug dealers, the last thing they want in their neighborhood is a clinic for heroin addicts.
So a plan by Hispanics United of Buffalo to open a methadone clinic on Virginia Street has come as an unwelcome surprise to residents. They worry their work over the last 20 years to turn around the neighborhood could be undone.
“We’re doing great,” said Rodriguez, 31. “They’re trying to put us back to where we started.”
Many houses are now owner-occupied and block clubs have been effective at improving the neighborhood, ridding it of drug dealers, gangs and prostitutes that were once a common sight, residents said. They didn’t dispute a need for the clinic somewhere on the West Side, but said a residential area that has seen increased investment and rising property values after years of decline is not the right place.
No one, including city lawmakers and neighbors opposed to the location, disputes the need for the clinic, somewhere. Hispanics United’s plan comes as local and national authorities are dealing with an increase in heroin addiction. Like their national peers, local police and fire departments now require personnel to carry drugs that can reverse the effects of an overdose. The state, meanwhile, has passed new laws to combat the rising tide of addiction.
But the remedy for the larger community’s struggle against addiction will hit too close to home, neighbors said.
People addicted to heroin will visit the clinic, at 254 Virginia St., in the mornings for their daily dose of methadone, on the same corner where children line up to take the bus to school, residents said they learned during a meeting with Hispanics United.
“Our kids are going to be watching them and seeing their behavior,” said Vanessa Pomales, who has lived on the Lower West Side for 19 years. She is afraid the dealers, who prey on methadone users, will return to the neighborhood, and that robberies and other crimes will increase.
Pomales, 57, can recall the days when she stared down drug dealers from her minivan with a baseball bat on the passenger seat, boarded up vacant houses used as drug dens with her neighbors, and went to the Police Department to request more patrols. Now the Lower West Side is a place where people keep up their properties and want to live, she said.
Neighbors said they were never notified about Hispanics United’s plans and that they had to demand a meeting to learn more about the project.
Common Council members also were taken by surprise.
“You cannot operate in a silo on something this big,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen.
Neighbors said the impression they got from the meetings was that the clinic was a done deal, and that they were told Hispanics United was going to tell the community after it was open.
The methadone clinic has not opened yet, and the state agency that oversees drug treatment programs told The Buffalo News this week that the clinic is still under review.
Hispanics United referred questions to a spokesman with Acacia Network, a related agency in New York City. He did not return two calls placed over two days.
The Common Council has gone on record opposing the clinic, but there is little the Council can do to prevent it from opening.
The Erie County Department of Mental Health and the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services are involved at varying levels, but the city does not play a role in siting clinics, lawmakers said.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk said he has tried to get answers from Acacia Network without any results.
“I’m adamantly opposed to it,” he said. “It’s got to get out of Virginia Street.”
The Council this week heard from supporters of the clinic, as well as neighbors who fear the neighborhood will slide.
Supporters said that the clinic would help people on the Lower West Side as well as helping Hispanics United financially.
Methadone treatment clinics work and enhance the quality of life in communities, clinic supporter Gilbert Hernandez told the Council.