In Midtown Kingston relations have soured between the Samadhi Recovery Community Outreach Center — an addiction treatment center located next to the Clinton Avenue Methodist Church — and neighbors who say their quality of life has declined ever since the center opened in 2019.
Residents on Clinton Avenue and Liberty Street near the center at 122 Clinton Ave. took to October’s Ulster County Legislature meeting to voice their concerns about the center’s impact on the neighborhood. The speakers complained of visible drug use, people having sex in the open, and fearing for the safety of themselves and their children. Some even called on the county not to enter into a contract for mental health services with Samadhi.
David McNamara, Samadhi’s Executive Director, said the addiction treatment center, which bases its practices on Buddhist principles, is listening to neighbors’ concerns and desperately wants to move out of the church’s former parsonage to a new location outside of residential areas.
Samadhi was set to relocate to Broadway last summer, but that deal fell through and he said the center has had no choice but to remain in the old parsonage for the time being. McNamara said once Samadhi moves out staff would continue to serve those in need in residential areas with mobile services unit vans staffed with two providers.
“I think we have a couple of locations that are good, that are not in residential areas,” McNamara said, without offering further details. He did not offer a timeline for a possible move.
In the meantime, Samadhi has taken efforts to appease neighborhood concerns. The center recently hired a security guard, installed security cameras around the exterior of the center and has moved to a locked-door buzzer system, according to McNamara. “The front door is locked now,” he said. “People have to ring the video doorbell to come in…We’re only allowing people in who are going to groups, meetings or one-on-one counseling.”
Speaking nearly a week after that change McNamara said he has not seen anyone hanging out on the front, middle, or side of the building, a chief concern expressed by those in attendance.
The executive director said the change has come at a great price as Samadhi is now only serving half the people it did before the new security measures were put in place. “We had to address the concerns of the neighbors,” McNamara said.
McNamara related that he was told by one person at the meeting that they had noticed a difference since the additional security was implemented a few weeks back.
Neighbors voice concerns
Sill more than a dozen neighbors took to the public comment period to express frustration about Samadhi while asking county officials to take action.
Ryan Mallory, who lives at 66 Liberty Street and works in the ER at HealthAlliance Broadway Hospital said children have been subjected to pornography in their back yard and seeing adults not going through the best periods in their lives. “I’m not seeing the program helping the community…it’s dragging the community down,” Mallory said during public comment at the meeting. “Our kids can’t go in properties we own to play.”
Speaking to Hudson Valley One during a recent telephone interview, McNamara said that’s not the case. Samadhi has helped save 387 lives through the use of Narcan has helped to place 537 people into inpatient addiction services, he said.
Narita Jimenez, who’s lived on Liberty Street for the past 10 years — before Samadhi — echoed Mallory’s concerns. “I don’t want this for my family,” she said. “One day one guy hit my husband in the head with a bottle in my driveway and my kid saw this incident…This is not fair to us.”
McNamara said he has not heard of any incident of anyone getting hit with a bottle.
Another speaker complained of having a vagrant in the hallway of their apartment, while a landlord who owns a building across Clinton Avenue said he’s losing tenants who fear for their safety.
Maureen Kerry, of Liberty Street, accused Samadhi of having a lack of respect for neighbors while sharing stories of people defecating and having sex in front of their children.
“The police do what they can but they have to patrol our whole city,” she said “They use up our EMS services and our public services.”
Neighborhood problems go beyond addiction alone
McNamara said the problems in the neighborhood are far bigger than addiction alone. “We have a large homeless population in Kingston and we have no homeless shelter, we have no behavioral health in a local hospital,” He said. “We lost Chiz’s Heart Street and Elizabeth House, rendering 100 people homeless.”
He pinned the neighborhood troubles on homeless people left with nowhere to go who have taken up residence in the neighborhood.
“We have no public homeless shelter here,” McNamara said. “We serve the public, whoever comes through our door.”
He said he simply doesn’t have the staff or a way of patrolling what people are doing outside.
“There seems to be a confusion that these people are residents or we’re responsible for them,” McNamara said, pointing out that Samadhi is not an inpatient or residential center.
McNamara said all of this is going on while Samadhi has seen demand skyrocket during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We went from serving about 60 people a month to 240 people a month.”
He said they’ve had to add staff and increase the hours to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week simply to meet the surging demand.
He said that the increase in demand is in no small part due to the decision of HealthAlliance parent WMCHealth’s decision to move inpatient mental health services out of Kingston to Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. WMCHealth officials initially said the move was temporary but the beds have never returned drawing the ire of local officials including County Executive Pat Ryan.
As for the area behind the center where several residents complained about trouble occurring, McNamara said that property belongs to the Methodist Church which previously allowed homeless people to stay back there in the past.
The church declined to comment for this article.
A call to the Kingston Police Department regarding incidents in the vicinity of Samadhi was not returned.
Legislature votes to create additional facilities
The Ulster County Legislature voted that same evening to create a new county-funded mental health and addiction treatment center and two respites houses independent of WMCHealth.
The legislation was co-sponsored by Democrat Peter Criswell who represents District 7 in Kingston and Eve Walter who represents the core of New Paltz in District 20. The stabilization center and respite houses would be funded with $5 million in Federal American Rescue Plan stimulus funds.
“It’s really critical we have this crisis stabilization center,” Criswell said. “It’s really going to serve our population in the right place…Walking into the ER is not the right atmosphere.”
The new center would offer an up to 24-hour stabilization period. From there a patient could either return home or be sent to one of the two respite houses if further treatment is needed.
He said the county hopes to put out Requests For Proposals to non-profit providers to run the stabilization center and respite houses as soon as later this year or early 2022. He could not offer a location of where these facilities may be located, although he said the idea with the respite houses is to locate them far enough away from each other to adequately cover the county.
He said officials are still determining if the stabilization center and respite houses would use existing buildings or be new construction. He could not offer a timeline for when they would open beyond that officials want it to happen as soon as possible.
Criswell admitted things could still get snagged a bit by lengthy planning processes once potential sites are chosen.
“We’ll be working with professionals who know how to work with clients and work on game plans to get them back into their lives,” he said.
Criswell said even when the center opens WMCHealth still needs to bring back the inpatient mental health beds.
As for Samadhi, which lies just outside of his district, Criswell said he believes the center is doing a great job. “They really want to be a good neighbor and their program is a strong program that helps the community,” Criswell said. “They want to be in the community while still serving the community.”