Cluster of drug treatment programs driving old and new residents away, protesters say

Resident decry University of Maryland's transfer of 500 methadone patients to Southwest Baltimore.

methadone protest

Southwest Baltimore residents protest a methadone clinic that moved to an Abell Foundation-owned building.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Along with older residents whose kids played among the local arabbers, there were young parents at a protest last night in front of a Southwest Baltimore building where the number of drug treatment patients recently doubled by roughly 500.

“We’re not against drug treatment,” said Scott Kashnow, of Franklin Square, who has an 11-month-old son. “We’re against concentrating too much of it in one place. This is going to drive away families.”

“We’re like a dumping ground for all the problems of the city,” said Betsey Waters, of Arlington Avenue, as about 70 people walked the sidewalk holding up signs for passing motorists.

Waters pointed to the 1001 W. Pratt St. building purchased recently by the Abell Foundation and now the home of a 525-patient methadone clinic, moved there in January by the University of Maryland from a previous location on Fayette Street, in its medical school campus.

Southwest Baltimore residents protest the recent doubling of the number of substance abusers in local treatment programs. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A flood of new methadone clinic patients in Mount Clare is hurting efforts to build community, protesters said. (Photo by Fern Shen)

More than a thousand other substance abuse and mental health patients receive day and residential treatment in the area, according to city-compiled data, making parts of West Pratt Street seem like a small city of service recipients during the day.

“Where do you think the drug dealers come to sell? To these people, when they get out of the building,” said Jane Buccheri, a leader of protest organizer The Southwest Partnership.

Waters has lived on Arlington Avenue for 30 years and remembers when it was safe enough for her children to play in the street.

“Now, I look out my door in the morning and I can pinpoint all the drug dealers,” she said. Why would today’s young couples stay and raise their kids there, she said, expressing a theme of the protest.

“We Are Going to Shoot”

Many held signs that said “We are the 10,000,” a reference to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s vow to increase Baltimore’s shrinking population by 10,000 people.

Among the picketers were people carrying children on their shoulders, filming the protest on cell phones and posting their location – the corner of West Pratt Street and Arlington Avenue – on Foursquare.

A 40-year-old mother of two who has lived nearby for 10 years, was asked if she was one of the people who might leave because of problems related to the clinic patients.

Dagmar Wehling paused, gulped, and responded with a story.

“We had two incidents where people came into our backyard and climbed over a six-foot fence. The second time I was alone with my kids having dinner. We heard voices say ‘We are going to shoot!’” she recalled.

"I see these young people with kids and worry that none of them are going to stay here,"  one picketer said. (Photo by Fern Shen)

"I see these young people with kids and worry that none of them are going to stay here," one picketer said. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“I told my kids to run upstairs. The police were out there and somebody was hiding under our porch. He really put up a fight,” she said.

Now she worries about the possibility the man left a gun behind that her children could find: “The police searched our yard for 30 minutes.”

Wehling said she and her husband came from Germany because he got a job in between Baltimore and Washington and that they chose to settle in Southwest Baltimore because it was affordable and “because we love city life.”

So are they rethinking the whole thing?

“We bought a house we are going to renovate,”she said. “Now we’re seriously considering not doing it.”

Robert C. Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, said his group simply owns the building and was trying to help the University of Maryland relocate its clinic.

Embry said residents concerned about the concentration of treatment centers in the area should talk to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The mayor’s office of communications has not responded to several requests for comment by The Brew.

Safeway, Other Businesses “Driven Away”

Many said the protest pained them because they have personal or professional sympathy with people struggling with drug and mental health problems.

Still, large numbers of treatment patients panhandling or shoplifting have driven businesses away, said John Compher, a case manager for the Department of Social Services who lives in the 1100 block West Lombard St.

“We used to have a Safeway, a Pep Boys and a Rite Aid,” said Compher. “They drove all that away.”

Compher said he moved in to the area back in the early 90s when the Hollins market area was a bohemian hub, with popular restaurants like Mencken’s Cultered Pearl and Rudy’s Patisserie.

“We thought it was going to be the next Fells Point,” he said with a wry grin.

Several protesters said it pained them to even be talking about the neighborhood’s problems, since they are working so hard to stress its strengths.

“In Pigtown, I feel like I’m part of a community,” said Christina Bradley, in a phone interview with The Brew. “There are wonderful people here and all these great watering holes, like Tommy’s Downtown Tavern, Café Calypso. The Ethiopian place, I always take visitors there, it’s great.”

But it’s hard to persuade others to settle there and combat the vacancy problem, she said, with the treatment profusion of patients in the neighborhood.

The extra methadone patients run counter to the mayor's campaign to boost the city population by 10,000, residents said.

Adding methadone patients runs counter to the mayor's campaign to attract 10,000 new families to the city, residents said.

“You see a lot of people falling asleep while they’re standing up, people loitering on the corner to sell drugs,” Bradley said.

“I’ve had people dealing drugs behind my house. They’ll say ‘Sorry maam’ very politely and move on, but it’s still something you don’t want to see.”

Many said they feel City Hall has forgotten the southwest corner of Baltimore, talking a good game about trendy topics like “food deserts,” but burdening neighborhoods with challenges that exacerbate the problem.

Denise Dutton, of Pigtown, suggested a more effective way to battle the food desert problem than any program.

“Why don’t we try to make it safe here, so businesses will move in and provide healthy food?”

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  • Edfitz

    The city has forgotten the southwest, southeast, northwest and northeast corners in general.  Unless you live in a new development like Harbor East or a redesigned area like Brewers Hill, everyone else takes a back seat. It’s ironic that the 4 corners of the city offer the most “family friendly” environment overall, but each continues to deal with more issues and problems like this year after year.
    Unless this current administration comes down from it’s high tower a takes a good hard look at what these communities are experiencing first hand and realize how much they mean to the long term tax base, residents will continue to move what little wealth they have to the surrounding counties and states over the next 4 to 8 years to take advantage of better services, education and lower taxes. Expect the continuing trend of a 30-40,000 in population loss for Baltimore City in next Census.

  • Baltimoreplaces

    Love it… We are the 10,000!

    IMO this city could gain a population of 50-100,000 in the next 10 years if that became priority #1.

  • Gerald Neily

    Kudos to the Brew and its wonderful readers like Edfitz for seeing the big picture in all this. City Hall is based on hype – often for increasingly expensive projects. Hype was cheaper back in the ’80s when it encouraged out-of-state developer Terry Parks to build Mount Clare Junction, and even in the ’90s when the Hollins Market area was labeled a “bohemian hub”. Now in the increasingly sophisticated ’10s, the bohemians have become foot soldiers for much bigger projects, like MICA student/artists presence in Station North and EBDI, and in Brewers Hill where “bohemian” is just the still potent brand label from a long-gone beer.

    West Baltimore is still getting mega-projects, such as the University of Maryland Biotech Park, Uplands, and possibly (I doubt it!) the Red Line and (cue laugh track!) the Pigtown Racetrack, but it should now be clearer how little long term overall value they add to our communities in and of themselves.

    I don’t even think the “mega-projects” are necessarily bad. They just need to be based on a foundation of real overall economic confidence rather than hype and massive backroom deals and subsidies.

  • Bmorepanic

    This issue brings up a lot of sadness for me.  For about 20 years, I lived and worked around 25th and Charles.  I saw the direct results of the sustained focus of resources only on the harbor area (and I think on transportation projects).  I saw the area between 25th and North Avenue become hollowed out – as the advertising agencies that used to be the commercial focus moved out into the county and were replaced by points of service.

    When the ad gencies folded, the service businesses that depended  on them (lunch places, dry cleaners, etc) also folded or moved.  Less people from the surrounding area would visit because the things they used were gone.  The street level population makeup became mostly users of the points of service and the housing became vacant.  The small amounts of seed development  by the city  along 25th street didn’t increased employment significantly in the neighborhoods or bring in new residents with higher than poeverty level incomes.  So the area continues to decline overall and the ongoing recession has suppressed any hope for recovery in that area – likely for at least ten to twenty years.. 

    I feel sad every trip up Calvert from downtown – when I first moved to Baltimore, every house on Calvert was occupied.  I feel sad that the city doesn’t listen to its residents.  They make their decisions based on the size of the organization or how much any given developer or construction company benefits. I feel sad that neither the city nor the service providers  understand there absolutely is a quality of life difference for everyone when services are concentrated in a single building or a few blocks.  

    What is wrong is that the organization designs treatment programs for its own benefit.  They don’t care that having 1200 addicts show up in the same few blocks everyday is completely different from having small treatment points spread throughout the service area.  Residents of lower Charles complained of the same thing.

    And I hate them, the city and the service providers,  for trying to justify this practice by quoting a guestimate of total social service recipients in the area – as if that was a guaranty of the population makeup of those who would visit the clinic.  I hate them for not relocating into a vacant Haborplace storefront or into upper Charles Village or any other monied area.

    • Baltimoreplaces

      You do make a great point.  The treatment centers really don’t care about the individuals they serve.  In fact I have witnessed first hand how they are treated as less-than without dignity or respect.  There is almost a factory mentality going on.  They seem to be more concerned on numbers served, because that is they get their money.  IMO, I can see very little hope for anyone using government sponsored treatment programs getting more than just sober for short periods.  People need to deal with the underlying issues in order to sustain recovery.  Personally, I believe there is rampant child abuse and neglect going in this city, that nobody talks about yet we see its effects everyday.  So we continue to treat and manage symptoms, and not the illness.

  • Baltimoreplaces

    This area is very fragile.  Over the years it has had its share of believers, private investment, small community action and it always seems to come up short.  It has wonderful housing stock, close to downtown, major highways and transit.  It has the makings of being an attractive, stable, diverse city neighborhood.  I have watched this area over the years take a step forward and take two steps back since the 90’s.  At times it seems like it will reach the tipping point and finally realize its potential, and then just a few small things happen and people lose faith, interest and move.  It is sad since this area from Union Square to MLK is what will pioneer west ward expansion and revitalization of the city’s ailing westside. 

    I think it is great the citizens are standing up.  It is their city and neigborhood.  The choices of a few, who probably have no direct interest in the neighborhood, should not cause these residents to suffer and possibly run this delicate area off the cliff.  

  • share the wealth

    Roland park is a good place for a few hundred drug addicts.  Let the better parts of the city get filled with the drug treatment programs so the clients can get a good example by their surroundings.  If the success rate is 80% then that means that hundreds of additional addicts will be looking for ways to get money for their fix how many times a day?? We have many empty store fronts are on Charles street this would be a good place for drug treatment too. 

  • Barnadine the Pirate

    Lots of complaining in the comments section, but no suggestions. The city can’t forbid new treatment centers. It could put them in other neighborhoods but then (a) they would be less effective and (b) then the other neighborhoods would have the exact same complaints. Moreover, there are a lot of addicts in this city; we need treatment centers.

    We could go back in time 150 year and eliminate the de facto and de jure housing discrimination that set all of this up. If you don’t have a time machine, however, you need to come up with something workable as an alternative.

  • Patricia N.

    It’s always horrible to see people protesting the building of facilities that could HELP people most in need.  It’s like non-addicts assume that people stop being PEOPLE once they become addicted to drugs.  This “not in my backyard” attitude is going to have to stop if we’re ever going to make a dent in the drug problem.

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