Pubdate: Thu, 11 Mar 2004
Source: Queens Chronicle (NY)
Edition: Western
Section: Top Stories
Address: Mark I Publications, P.O. Box 74-7769 Rego Park, N.Y. 11374-7769
Fax: (718) 205-0150
Copyright: 2004 Mark I Publications, Inc
Author: Paul Menchaca, Western Queens Editor
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Amid Cries Of Exclusion, Syringe Exchange Halted

Community Board 2 tabled a vote last week on a controversial proposed 
needle exchange program after residents of Queensbridge Houses in Long 
Island City complained that they had not been consulted about the 
headquarters being set up blocks from where they live.

Meanwhile, supporters were angered that the initiative could be buried 
beneath a political quagmire, after City Councilman Eric Gioia expressed 
outrage that the program was being pushed through without consultation of 
the Queensbridge House Tenant Association. Gioia called on CB 2 to table 
the vote until the discussion was expanded to include community input.

The proposed site for the needle exchange mobile van, which was recommended 
by CB 2's Health and Human Services Committee, is Vernon Boulevard and 
Queens Plaza South. Queensbridge Houses is actually located in Community 
Board 1, but the site is near the dividing line between CB 1 and CB 2.

CB 2 Chairman Joseph Conley denied that the board was pressured into 
holding off on its vote, instead saying that it was a decision that it 
reached after examining the proposed site with Queens Borough President 
Helen Marshall.

"As soon as we found out that (Queensbridge tenants) did not have input, we 
stopped the process, along with the borough president," he said. "We 
stopped, we paused, we're holding back. We are going to make sure that the 
affected community, with no (consideration of) lines or boundaries, are 
served the way they want to be served."

Philip Glotzer, executive director for the AIDS Center of Queens County, 
said that he respects the feelings of the Queensbridge residents, but is 
afraid that the issue of helping people with HIV is now becoming obscured 
in the firestorm from political showmanship.

"I found that part reprehensible," he said. "When (the protest) is 
orchestrated so apparently by an outside party, it loses credibility. 
There's a chance that this program will not be welcomed in Queens, and if 
that was (Gioia's) intent, then he might have accomplished their goal."

However, Gioia's office reached out to the AIDS Center for Queens County on 
Friday and said that it remains committed to working with the ACQC, the 
community boards and Queensbridge residents on a resolution. Gioia was 
adamant that he did not oppose the needle exchange program, it just sought 
a process that was more inclusive.

"The process empowers people," Gioia told the Queens Chronicle on Friday. 
"A flawed process invariably gives you a flawed result."

He believes that making the process more inclusive will make it easier to 
get the program approved in Queens.

"I think it's very important that we do all we can to fight the scourge of 
AIDS," he said. "Although it is a controversial program, studies show that 
needle exchange goes a long way toward this. But it's imperative that when 
dealing with an issue as sensitive as this, the community support is there."

Gioia also wants to see the issue brought before Community Board 1. Conley 
said that he planned on reaching out to CB 1 to collaborate on a site.

However, CB 1 District Manager George Delis questioned the need for the 
board to even discuss the issue.

"I don't think it's a board issue," he said. "If (the Department of Health) 
wants it here, then they should just put it here. They don't need a 
variance. Why should it be brought before the board?"

Delis indicated that CB 1 Chairman Vinicio Donato would discuss the program 
with members of the board who attended the CB 2 meeting last week before 
deciding whether to bring it before the full Community Board 1 for discussion.

Nina Adams, president of the Queensbridge Tenants Association, did not 
condemn the needle exchange program, but did point out what she believes 
are flaws in the process.

"Because I have never been made privy to the details of the proposed 
program, I cannot speak to its merits," she wrote in a letter to Community 
Board 2. "But I do know, and I am sure you would agree, that this is a 
sensitive issue that deserves ample time for careful deliberation that 
includes everyone who would be affected."

Reverend Mitchell Taylor, pastor for Long Island City's Center of Hope 
International, issued a prepared statement also thanking CB 2 for tabling 
its vote. He also indicated that he was not opposed to the needle exchange 
programs, but was offended that the residents of Queensbridge Houses were 
not consulted.

"Despite the efforts of myself and many other tireless leaders, I have seen 
our neighborhood all too often become a dumping ground for people who think 
they know what is best for us, or just do not care about what is best for 
us," he said in the statement.

The needle exchange program is expected to be one a night a week, from 11 
p.m. to 5 a.m. If it is approved, it would be the first ever needle 
exchange program in Queens.

Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden noted that there were 
80,000 New Yorkers living with AIDS, making it the fifth leading cause of 
death for New York City residents.

"This is a terrible plight for our city," Frieden said. "This is the 
epicenter of this national epidemic."

According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 200 people came 
down with HIV infection in CB 2 last year as a result of needle injection. 
Dr. Frieden said that the goal of his agency was to "stop an epidemic, save 
lives and save money.

"There has never been a syringe program started where there has not been 
controversy," he said. "But these services are needed in this community. We 
want to make sure that they are accessible to those who need the services 
and acceptable to the community."

Despite the uproar at the CB 2 meeting on Thursday night, Frieden remains 
optimistic about support for the proposal. Although numerous Queensbridge 
residents spoke out against the process, only one said adamantly that she 
opposed it.

"We have come a long way," Dr. Frieden said. "A year ago there wasn't a 
recognition that there was a need for a needle exchange. I think it's 
encouraging that there now seems to be a recognition that there is a need."

Glotzer, who also said he was optimistic that a compromise could be 
reached, is unwavering about how imperative he believes the program is for 
Queens. He recalled a recent case worker that ACQC handled in which a 
5-year-old child lost both parents to AIDS, who contracted it through 
sharing dirty needles.

"That child is now an orphan because we could do nothing to help the 
parents," he said

Glotzer added, "I know you are concerned about the youth, and all the youth 
ministers are here, but we may not be moving forward with this and then you 
are sentencing another generation of youth to die."

The State Department of Health, which would be funding the program, must 
issue a permit in order for the unit to be allowed. If the proposal for 
Long Island City is accepted, a community advisory board will be 
established made up in part of CB 2 members to monitor its progress.
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MAP posted-by: Beth