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, does not live in Bergen Square, but two of her children, Yasmin, 8, and Yionna, 4, participate in programs at the Neighborhood Center and have many friends in that part of town. Her other children, Rickea Bell, 18, and Ricky, 17, work in Bergen Square. She says she's concerned a drug-treatment clinic and the addicts it draws will disrupt her older children's daily routines.
Smith's sentiments were echoed by more than 25 residents and area business owners who gathered at the Neighborhood Center on 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 the 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 Sixth Avenue and Atlantic Street until residents of Bergen Square are allowed more input.
The zoning board is due to vote Monday on granting a variance that would allow the clinic to be housed in the square.
The Neighborhood Center, on Kaighns Avenue, 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 in an area of high traffic volume, just off Route 676, and they call the location "dangerous" for any pedestrians drawn to the clinic. They also 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. She and Chandler suggested that the methadone clinic be moved out of Camden.
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 hurt their businesses in Bergen Square.
Event organizers said representatives of the city and the clinic were invited but did not attend.
Ed Sheehan, a lawyer representing the clinic's 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 that the move would hurt 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 current Urban Treatment Center is 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.