Pubdate: Fri, 22 Sep 2017
Source: Herald News (West Paterson, NJ)
Copyright: 2017 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
Author: Ed Rumley


PATERSON -- About a dozen men and women sat on hard plastic chairs
early Wednesday morning inside a conference room at the Well of Hope
Drop-In Center on Broadway, where a flat screen television broadcast
sports highlights on ESPN.

Some came for the free coffee. A sign said the limit was one cup per
hour. Others were there to use the showers and toilet facilities. A
57-year-old man who would only give his name as "Julius" was waiting
to see a nurse about a blister on his foot.

"If I didn't come here, I couldn't get this medical care," said
Julius. "I presently don't have medical insurance and I can't afford
to pay for it. This is an excellent facility that really cares about
people. People come here who are in desperate need."

For the past two months, the syringe distribution program at the Well
of Hope has come under a barrage of criticism from community activists
who blame the nonprofit group for the quality-of-life issues plaguing
the surrounding neighborhood, including junkies nodding off outside
the city library and used needles being discarded in parks and

The opposition had grown so strong that the center announced on Sept.
20 that it would stop distributing needles, a decision its director
changed within days, fulfilling critics' predictions that the shutdown
would be only temporary.

Well of Hope's supporters, including its director Jerome King and city
health and human services director Donna Nelson-Ivy, say the
controversy about the syringes has overshadowed the other services
provided by the group, including HIV testing.

Paterson Press spent some time this week talking with Well of Hope
clients. None of them openly acknowledged being there to pick up
syringes. State records show more than 150,000 syringes were
distributed at the facility in 2015. Julius admitted snorting heroin
pretty much every day, but he said he doesn't inject the drug with

Julius came from out-of-town and has been homeless, living on Paterson
streets for the past few months. He is the type of Well of Hope client
- -- a Paterson outsider -- who protesters complain most fiercely about.
They argue that suburban towns should host needle programs for their
own people.

Julius said he once worked as an investment banker and lived for more
than 20 years in a condominium in Bergen County. He said his life
spiraled out of control after the deaths of his wife and daughter.

"There are more pros than cons in keeping the needle exchange," Julius
said. "It's not like people cannot get needles elsewhere. They can go
to Walgreens and buy needles. I don't think that providing needles
here increases dope usage. Here, they advocate good health and people
using good needles. This prevents the spread and infection of HIV and

Julius continued his defense of Well of Hope. "They help people here
who are in transition," he said. "They help with housing, to get
clothes. Why people would want to close a place like this is beyond
me. Certain people get the impression they are promoting drug use
here. That is not the case. That is a joke."

Another Well of Hope client, 43-year old Katrina Evans, said she has
struggled with substance abuse for more than three years. Evans was
born in Paterson but went to high school in the Chicago area before
moving back to Paterson. Evans said she had been clean from drugs for
nine years before a relapse and ended up at the Bergen Regional
Medical Center for treatment.

"I had no insurance so I was discharged," Evans said. "I begged them
to let me stay. I knew I would start using immediately. The day I was
released I got on a bus and came to Paterson and did just that. Now
I'm in a cycle to hustle. I've been homeless for a year. I sleep on
benches or at the bus stop."

"The Well of Hope is a haven for a lot of people," Evans added. "Some
of them have nowhere to go. Here people can take a shower, get
clothes, and talk with others. It really can make a person's day.
Also, because of the needle exchange program, the needles people use
aren't contaminated. They also provide HIV testing here which some
people would never have gotten had it not been for this place. At
first I was ashamed to come here, that I would be judged. But that
isn't the case."

But the recent protests have brought unprecedented scrutiny to a
program that has operated in Paterson for a decade and had little
controversy for most of that time.

When criticism first began to mount during the summer, program
director Jerome King attended a city council meeting and told
officials that Well of Hope had a 40 percent needle exchange rate. But
Paterson Press found state reports showed that the program's exchange
rate was actually 16 percent in 2016 and 32 percent in 2015.
Protesters cite the discrepancy as part of the reason they do not
trust King's assurances that his staff now requires a one-for-one
exchange of needles from clients.

Several candidates in Paterson's upcoming mayoral election have
expressed their desire to shut down the Well of Hope. The city's
health officer, Paul Persaud, said his staff issued about 12 summonses
to the program for health violations, mostly involving the kitchen at
the center.

Abdul Malik Jihad, 44, was among the people inside the drop-in center
on Wednesday morning. Local residents would probably recognize him as
someone who frequently jogs through Paterson's streets while shadow

"I don't do drugs, I don't' drink, any of those things," Jihad said
while sitting at Well of Hope. "I just wish it would all go away."

"Concerning the syringe exchange program, I am on the fence about it,"
Jihad added. "There are careless people who discard syringes. A while
back when I ran across the bridge into Elmwood Park, I almost stepped
on a whole pile of needles. However, if the program is stopped, people
who are addicted will use dirty needles instead of clean ones."
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