Exclusive: The Parkside Recovery Debate: Two Sides to Every Story

by Nikia Brown

Parkside Recovery Center before opening for the day
Parkside Recovery Center before opening for the day

The controversy around Parkside Recovery’s presence in the community continues to ensue as NHS tackles allegations regarding public safety concerns.

Last fall, The Parkside Journal released an article voicing residents’ frustrations with the clinic’s failure to respond to safety issues such as loitering and erratic behavior. In the current issue, we present responses from Parkside Recovery’s Executive Director, Art Fastman, and Community and Public Safety Liaison, Dennis Lee. On February 9, 2015, Fastman invited Parkside Journal reporters to the Parkside Recovery facility for an inside exclusive.

He expressed a desire to, “unveil the ghost behind the walls.” He assured reporters that there was nothing to hide and appreciated the opportunity to, “tell their side of the story.” Fastman states that prior to the petition for removal, the clinic took great lengths to ensure the safety of patients and community members alike. He says, “Ten months ago the administration implemented the ‘Be a Good Neighbor’ initiative immediately following a public safety meeting with Councilman Jones and Dr. Evans.”

With this program, patients are not only learning how to curve their behavior, but also “learning how to be part of something productive,” says Fastman. As we toured the facility, Fastman shared success stories of patients recovering from serious addictions. He mentioned one patient, in particular, who painted a mural of his recovery process on the wall of a group room. The painting depicts the patient’s journey from a dark addiction to a full recovery. “It’s not all bad. There are success stories too,” repeated Fastman.

According to Fastman and Lee, their administration has been working tirelessly to correct the perception of not only their institution, but also attitudes toward substance abusers. “Stigma is the big issue,” says Lee. “We judge based on what we don’t understand because we can’t relate.” Fastman and Lee believe that the criticism and objections aimed at their clinic are more a reflection of the stigma toward addiction.

“There is a lack of shared community responsibility,” says Lee. When asked why the clinic accepts patients from outside neighborhoods, Lee responds, “Patients don’t feel comfortable going to their own community for support because they fear judgment.” Lee asserts that we can only dispel misconceptions surrounding methadone clinics by providing a space to openly discuss the role of such facilities. “We need to embrace things that we don’t understand. People who are addicted to drugs are a major community health issue,” he says.

Mural on the wall in one of the group rooms showing one patient's journey from addition to recovery. (Photo by the author)
Mural on the wall in one of the group rooms showing one patient’s journey from addition to recovery. (Photo by the author)

In a follow-up interview with The Parkside Journal, community resident Betty Lindley states that her position remains unchanged regarding the petition for the clinic’s removal. “We have not seen any changes from the last meeting held with NHS which I believe was in September. At that time a short-term suggestion was made to require clients to remain inside the clinic until the bus comes instead of making them go to other bus stops.

As supported by the petition circulated throughout the community, the goal remains for the methadone clinic to relocate out of Parkside. Just this week [February 15th – 21st] we saw an increasing number of clinic clients coming to catch the bus at 51st and Parkside Avenue, as many as 20-25 at a time. And because they do not catch the bus in front of their facility at 50th Street and walk from 50th to 51st, the trash left along the way is considerable as well as in the Children’s Garden at 51st and Parkside. Because they all smoke, it is also difficult for residents and others to pass by 51st Street or stand at the corner to catch the bus. The petition and other activity will pick up again after the weather breaks.”

While Lindley maintains that the only solution for improvement in the area is relocation of the clinic, Fastman rebuts, “Participants and community members express gratitude and appreciation for implementing the zero-tolerance policy.

” Lee, on the other hand, questions the validity of the circulating petition. He claims that the petition was never presented to their administration and is leery of the nature of questions or statements being distributed to the public. Fastman contests that their administration is fully invested in the public welfare of Parkside residents. To further this point, he says, “In collaboration with Councilman Jones and Philadelphia’s Business Association of West Parkside, Parkside Recovery played an active role in installing the stop sign on 50th and Parkside Avenue.”

Fastman and Lee state that they have demonstrated their commitment to public safety by initiating a “Parkside Bike Ambassador Program.” Recently, Lee connected NHS to the public safety sector of City Avenue District. Trainers from this department will provide certified training to two staff members and supervisory support. Training will include physical safety, effective communication skills, and conflict resolution. Bike ambassadors are expected to work in pairs and patrol the surrounding area during Parkside Recovery’s business hours. “While they are not to be mistaken for security, they will serve as visual examples of public safety,” says Lee. “Their role is to observe, guide, and deter the threat of danger by their presence alone.” The Bike Ambassador Program is part of “baby steps toward the big picture: holistic care, prevention, and education,” says Fastman. He is excited about this new endeavor and believes that it has the potential to foster a safer environment for Parkside residents. Though the training for the program will take place in Parkside’s own backyard, “it is an expensive undertaking,” says Fastman. He strongly encourages the support and involvement of neighboring community partners. The Parkside Journal will continue to report on this important and ever evolving community issue.

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