The HUB, where businesses are adapting to consumer anxiety over the virus. Photo: Niamh McDonnell.

BID pushes for 24-hour mental and physical health center in The Hub

By Niamh McDonnell. The HUB crossing at 149th Street and Third Avenue.

A 24 hour drop-in center that will accommodate mental and physical health non-emergencies is under discussion to open in The Hub.

This spring the city’s health department proposed centers in the Bronx and Brooklyn, but some community members in The Hub demanded more input in the planning process. Now the center is undergoing a feasibility study facilitated through St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, which provides needle and syringe exchange as well as broader services for drug users, and the Third Avenue Business Improvement District.

Traditionally, drop-in centers have been a resource for people who have suffered a mental health episode, often compounded with drug use. Gov. Andrew Cuomo allocated $500,000 to a center in Rochester that works as an “urgent care for mental health,” equipped with a nurse and a licensed mental health provider.   

But BID director Michael Brady thinks a center in the HUB should be more comprehensive. Along with mental health treatment, he says the center should provide more extensive services, such as employment, housing, and dental. It should also serve as a resource for families with children suffering from asthma, the uninsured, and for sex workers without access to the resources they need late at night.

Those are features that cannot be brought to the neighborhood with just $500,000. Other countries “are spending up to 24 million dollars a year on one drop-in center, to ensure that they not only have the medical treatment but the health and wellness treatment,” said Brady. “Our city, we’re not offering that type of funding.” The money it would save taxpayers would make a more extensive program worthwhile, he added.

“If we can drive down emergency room times or the cost of first responders, that’s a real incentive for us to investigate and continue building on this type of program.”

If the plan comes to be, the day-to-day maintenance will likely fall to St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, which pushed for the feasibility study, and is now adjusting its current hours to include a 6 p.m. to midnight shift on Saturdays. St. Ann’s did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment on its prospective role.Supporters say the center would play a pivotal role in addressing the South Bronx, where the overdose death rate was higher than 49 states in 2017.

But a grassroots group called Take Back the Hub that tries to address the heroin upsurge, is skeptical of groups like St. Ann’s. contending that the area’s many methadone clinics compound the influx of drug users to The Hub and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The drug rehab industry is alive and well in our community and ready to expand even further,” said Marty Rogers, 67, a Merose resident and member of Take Back the Hub. “It is unchecked and aided and abetted by a business consortium that does not live in the community.”

A drop-in site would have the unwanted consequence of attracting even more drug users, the group fears. But Brady says that a center that offers more holistic services would abate rather than compound the problem. “Soft skills like workforce placement, career development, technology, housing, all of those are fundamental components.”

And with rents rising in Mott Haven, he added, the city should own the space, to avoid getting priced out in the future.

“We want to create an anchor, an institution,” he said. “The worst thing we could do for a neighborhood like the South bronx is offer a great drop-in center model, and then two or three years later when the funders decide they’re no longer interested, take that away.”

The feasibility study, which has included meetings with business owners, the LGBTQ community and opioid care providers, will wrap up in early August. Then backers will start looking for funding from the city, state budget, federal governments, and from private donors.

The Health Department declined to comment on whether it would commit to the project.

The BID will hold a “report back session” on July 11, recapping the last three months of community meetings about the drop-in site, with the hope that funders from the city and beyond are paying attention.