A municipal court judge sustained 6 of the 12 health violations issued to the Well of Hope on Friday morning requiring the troubled needle exchange operator to pay $3,000 in penalties.
Jerome King, executive director of the Well of Hope, was issued the citations in September. Health inspectors found the building at 207 Broadway had extensive mold growth inside the kitchen cabinets, ceiling, and floor. There was also possible vermin problem and other unsanitary conditions present at the building, according to inspection reports.
Health inspectors issued 12 summonses and gave the Well of Hope a second unsatisfactory in August. King’s attorney Dakota Kuykendall on Friday morning told municipal judge Giuseppe Randazzo his client had resolved many of the issues cited by inspectors.
“Substantial repairs” have been made to the building Kuykendall told Randazzo. The judge rescheduled the hearing twice in the past months to give King time to make renovations. Kuykendall said the Well of Hope spent $20,000 in making renovation to the building that it rents from the New Shiloh Missionary Gospel Church.
King pleaded guilty to six of the tickets on behalf of the Well of Hope. The citations were issued to his name. His attorney said he is not personally pleading guilty to the tickets, but on behalf of the nonprofit.
The structural damages are the responsibility of the landlord, said the attorney. He said King’s organization should not have to make repairs to the building that it leases. “He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Kuykendall. “He had to fall on the sword so the church doesn’t get condemned.” He said a leak in the roof was fixed, new flooring was installed, and moldy walls were taken out of the building.
Each of the citations was for $500 totaling $3,000, according to court officials.
“I declared it a health hazard many months ago. We did our job,” said health officer Paul Persaud. He and his inspectors — Jennifer Okpalaugo-Odih and Maria Cuevas-Greco – took enormous personal risks to carry out their duties at a time when health and human services director Donna Nelson-Ivy attempted to shield King from enforcement.
Nelson-Ivy is the director of the Health and Human Services Department. The Division of Health falls within Nelson-Ivy’s department.
“I think it’s a positive thing for the city,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. He said it sends a message to nonprofit organizations that they have to abide by municipal ordinances while providing services to vulnerable populations.
Jackson has criticized the Well of Hope calling it and its executive director “irresponsible.” His case was further strengthened when it emerged the organization had repeatedly failed inspections. Even after failing the inspection once, the Well of Hope continued to provide food and coffee to its clients, mostly out-of-town drug addicts.
Organizations given an unsatisfactory are prohibited from serving food or drinks to the public.
Jackson also described Nelson-Ivy as “compromised” for attempting to intervene on behalf of the Well of Hope. Nelson-Ivy questioned why inspectors were at the Well of Hope in a series of emails to the health officer.
Jackson also tried to take away $93,327 in federal grant funds the organization receives via the municipal government. He could not convince his colleagues, who criticized the needle operator, to take away the funding.
Jackson and Alex Mendez were the only two members of the council who favored taking away funding from the group. Although the city government failed to punish the organization for its behavior that resulted in protests, the New Jersey Department of Health in late November took away $363,499 in funding from the organization.
The state uncovered 21 problems with the Well of Hope. Among the issues cited in the Nov. 30, 2017 letter were poor monitoring of syringe inventory, unauthorized purchase of equipment, missing invoices, inadequate tracking and documentation of expenses, mold infestation, building disrepair, and unsanitary kitchen.
“It’s a day late and a dollar short,” remarked city resident Victoria Oquendo speaking of the repairs at the Well of Hope. She saw a renovation truck outside of the building, she said.
Oquendo was at the Paterson Municipal Court with Elizabeth Elias. Both city residents repeatedly protested the Well of Hope. Both said there are less needles in public places now.
“I don’t see that many zombies,” said Elias of the drug addicts that hung around the Danforth Memorial Library a block away from the Well of Hope.
The two women had to leave the court early. The case was scheduled for 8:45 a.m., but the hearing began after 10:15 a.m. King arrived late at the court with his young daughter.
With the state no longer providing him grant funds, King may be out of the needle distribution business at the end of this year.