March 28, 2018

Atlantic City Council Questions Future Of NJ’s Largest Needle Program

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A notice on the window of the Oasis Drop In Center in Atlantic City.

The biggest syringe-exchange program in New Jersey is facing pressure from Atlantic City Council, where some members are looking to revoke the local rules permitting its operation.

The South Jersey Aids Alliance has run the federally-funded program for years from an unassuming office building in the state-designated Tourism District. But as the city and state try to revive the Atlantic City Tourism District as well as tackle a spiraling opioid crisis, problems such as discarded needles, panhandlers and overdoses are being linked to the needle exchange. A spokeswoman for the South Jersey Aids Alliance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three separate council committees have been grappling with the question of what to do about public health, public safety and other issues some committee members believe stem from the syringe program, Councilman Jesse Kurtz said in an interview on Tuesday. “Of all the contributing factors this has been recognized as the single biggest factor, because it is the only service of its kind toward people with low or no income in all of South Jersey,” he said. (A needle exchange program operates in Camden, but it receives less funding and gives out less than a quarter of the number of needles dispensed by the Atlantic City program).

Atlantic City’s Tourism District Has A Needle Problem. It Can Be Fixed.

Kurtz earlier this month placed an item on the council agenda (rescheduled for Wednesday, March 28) that would rescind the ordinances that originally permitted the syringe access program to operate in Atlantic City. But in an interview on Tuesday, Kurtz said he would withdraw that item after discussion with his colleagues. “I’ve been asked to talk to more people,” he said, adding that he plans to propose a community meeting on the topic that will be open to the public.

It is not clear what would be the legal ramifications  of rescinding the syringe program’s ordinances. Kurtz said he hopes it would send a message to state officials. “We’re looking for the state to get engaged on this and to facilitate the movement of the needle exchange out of Atlantic City, out of the Tourism District and to disperse it throughout South Jersey,” he said.

New development just one block from the syringe program on Tennessee Avenue has added to the pressure on the City Council and Kurtz said business owners as well as local residents have voiced concerns with the program. One of the developers behind the project that has opened a yoga studio and will soon open a chocolate bar and coffee shop on the street declined to comment for this article.

“I think it’s important that we make the right decision and we do a little more fact-finding,” said Council President Marty Small. That means talking to the original stakeholders and other experts, he said. “That way the city council can make the most informed decisions on behalf of the taxpayers of Atlantic City.”

Mayor Frank Gilliam did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

6 thoughts on “Atlantic City Council Questions Future Of NJ’s Largest Needle Program

  1. This program has been in operation for years with little to no drama surrounding it until the Tennessee Avenue redevelopment project mentioned began. I’m not surprised, Councilman Kurtz wants this shutdown since he has interests in the redevelopment. However, since his district is in the Chelsea area this doesn’t affect his constituents or his family and he should let the council members whose districts are concerned work on this. This area was far worse years ago and the needle exchange has nothing to do with the chronic state of homelessness and substance abuse. I believe that their presence actually helps stem the spread of HIV and other such diseases and is much needed. As for the Tourism District being affected, to best of my knowledge, the needle exchange was there before those designations were made. Perhaps it’s the CRDA maps that should be changed since that neighborhood and the surrounding area is quite impoverished and has been for a long time. If this an excuse to start gentrifying the area just say so and be done with it. Let’s not create scapegoats and hide behind it.

  2. The mission of the South Jersey AIDS Alliance is to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the needle exchange program has been a great success, keeping the infection rates way down below national statistics. Once you stop that, you risk infecting a population of drug abusers, who will now have not only a crippling addiction to deal with, but a potentially deadly disease on top of it. Not to mention how quickly it will spread to the community at large. Yes, there are drug cocktails out there that have extended the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS but they are very expensive and a life long commitment. And, if you don’t know you’re infected, you risk infecting many others. Check the statistics for those places that have stopped, once you end a needle exchange program, HIV/AIDS infections skyrocket in the area.
    The city needs to find a new home for the Oasis Drop-In Center, that is undeniable, since that area will be the focus of new businesses. But blaming the woes of the city, and those residents and others who are overlooked because of their addictions on the SJAA and other social service agencies is wrong. Maybe the CRDA could actually help out here, they had no problem funding million dollar art parks that now sit empty and useless, at least helping out the SJAA and the other agencies in this city, the CRDA money will finally do some good in this city for a change.

    • That sounds like an easy fix but you have to consider the ramifications of relocating all these services 10 miles or more away from everyone who needs them. Not to mention coming up with the finances to move, getting a suitable space, renovations, moving costs, all that adds up. Then, how do you provide the life saving services to your clients who now are trapped on the island with no means to get to the new location. Then there’s the NIMBY problem, no one wants to deal with these individuals, and many of the off-shore cities sent them to Atlantic City in the first place. And then there are the permits, licensing, and other city agencies that would have to be dealt with. As a non-profit, our funding does not cover any of that so saying ‘They need to move it out of the city.’ is a very simplistic and wholly unrealistic answer to the problem. Yes, we understand that being in the ‘tourism district’ and so close to the Tennessee Ave. project, we have become an unfortunate neighbor, but we are there trying to help people in need, and we need to remain within the city to continue to provide those services that so many of our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors, need to keep themselves healthy and in many cases, alive.

  3. If we really wanted to do this there is a way that it could be done. With all the money this city spends on stupid stuff this would be money well spent. I’m sure we could find a place better suited and actally much nicer than where these people are right now.