The controversial needle exchange operator the Well of Hope is on the verge of losing $93,327 in grant money that it receives through the municipal government. Council members are expected to vote on the measure stripping the troubled nonprofit organization of the two grants next week.
Funds being pulled are from two federal programs. $88,327 from the Ryan White program and $5,000 from the Minority Aids Initiative. Both grants help to fund HIV/AIDS-related activities like early intervention, substance abuse services, non-medical case management, and outreach, according to the measure before the council.
This is the latest development in the controversy involving the Well of Hope which has been criticized by council members as being an “irresponsible” organization for unloading millions of dirty needles in public spaces including parks, sidewalks, and library steps. The resolution states the funds being pulled are unrelated to the needle program.
Milagros Izquierdo, who is the director of the Ryan White program in Paterson, requested the council delay action on the measure.
“My concern here are the patients. I need time to be able to have these people go over to different programs. I need to make sure those patients are being channeled to the right agencies so they are not left without services,” Izquierdo told council members on Thursday.
Karen Walker, director of the Paterson Counseling Center, the methadone clinic on Main Street, opposed cutting funding to the Well of Hope.
“We’re very concerned about pulling money quickly,” said Walker, a member of the Ryan White planning council. She managed the needle program until 2012. The syringe access program came to the city in 2008.
Walker was one of the advocates for the syringe program almost a decade ago. “Give us time to see if we can work out a smoother transition,” said Walker. Council president Ruby Cotton defended the Well of Hope saying it also serves as a cooling center and provides other services. She also noted the grants from the city has “nothing to do with needles.”
Councilman Michael Jackson rebutted the arguments made in favor of the Well of Hope. He said three of his aunts died from HIV/AIDS.
“I would not have one of them serviced at this place,” said Jackson. He noted the facility failed health inspections two years in a row. He described the location as “deplorable.”
Jackson also called Jerome King, director of the Well of Hope, insensitive to the concerns of neighborhood residents. King has faced repeated protests outside his office.
“This particularly program needs to be shut down,” said Jackson.