Councilmen William McKoy and Michael Jackson described the needle program run by the Well of Hope as “irresponsible.” Alex Mendez promised to shut it down if elected mayor. All three men voted to approve $16,815 in grant funding to the Well of Hope in early October, according to municipal records.
Funds awarded to the Well of Hope this year were from $4.12 million the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded to Passaic and Bergen Counties to tackle HIV/Aids. Some council members did not realize the award resolution, which lists a large number of organizations receiving grant funds, contained a line for the Well of Hope.
“From my prospective that was a complete oversight,” said a candid Jackson. “I was unaware the Well of Hope was on that list. I would’ve definitely voted against it if I had known.”
Jackson said he will attempt to get the measure rescinded.
The resolution approved on Oct. 3, 2017, gives the Well of Hope an extra $5,000 on top of its $11,815 award for this year. The Well of Hope and its director Jerome King have been roundly criticized by both council members and other community leaders.
King has failed to take responsibility for unloading millions of dirty needles, through his program, in local parks and other public places. He also claimed to have shut down his program only to re-open it. It’s not clear if King ever actually shut down his program. His nonprofit organization also serves food to drug addicts who come in for clean needles. His building at 207 Broadway received two failed health inspections in 2016 and 2017.
King has done little to resolve the issues. He was forbidden from serving food to the public in 2016 when he received an unsatisfactory health inspection. However, this year, his clients were seen leaving the location with food stuff.
McKoy in the past described the program as “terribly” run and “negatively impacting the community.” When asked why he would vote in favor of providing funds to an organization that he previously described as irresponsible, McKoy said the administration recommended the award.
“No, it doesn’t,” replied McKoy when told his vote contradicts his past statement. He explained the “irresponsible” comment narrowly applied to the organization’s approach to handing out needles rather than doing one-to-one exchanges.
McKoy, who sits on the health committee, could have held back the resolution until the administration removed the Well of Hope from the list. “I don’t think that’s the best approach,” he said.
McKoy said the issues the organization has are curable. His colleague councilman Mendez promised people protesting the Well of Hope that he would take steps to shut down the needle exchange.
Mendez voted in favor of giving the nonprofit more funds. He did not return a call for comment on Monday.
Other council members to vote in favor of giving the group more funds were Luis Velez, Andre Sayegh, and Ruby Cotton. Kenneth Morris, who works at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, recused himself because the list included an award for the hospital. Shahin Khalique and Maritza Davila were absent.
Davila told King to take the program out of Passaic County and move it to where his clients are in Bergen County. Vast majority of those served are not from Paterson, according to data King provided to the council.
Mendez’s comment to shut down the program turned the Well of Hope into a political issue in the 2018 mayoral race.
“It doesn’t make sense to approve funding for a program and you’re looking to shut it down. It’s counterintuitive,” said Sayegh. “I knew they were receiving some funding from Paterson,” he said.
Sayegh said the program is not as effective as needle exchanges elsewhere in New Jersey. “There’s plenty of room for improvement,” he said. He has not publicly criticized the organization.
Sayegh is likely to run next year. Jackson, McKoy, and Mendez have announced their intention to run.