Germantown residents near Market Square met last month to vent about the Parkside Recovery drug treatment clinic and its impact on the neighborhood.
The complaints weren’t new: vagrancy, foul language, public drinking, and drug use by the 200-plus clients of the facility.
What was different – someone was there to listen.
“As uncomfortable as it is to hear this stuff, ultimately this is what will help our clients get better,” said Art Fastman, executive director of addiction services for Northwest Regional Services (a division of Northwest Human Services), which runs the facility. “This is community support,” he said.
For years, Parkside Recovery Germantown has been the subject of groans from nearby residents who refer to it as “the methadone clinic.”
Clients congregate outside its doors on the 5400 block of Germantown Avenue, smoking, and in the back ally, residents say, doing much more.
To make things worse, NHS last year earned a reputation for callousness to the community when it opened a mental health treatment facility on Armat Street without meeting with concerned neighbors.
It’s common for Parkside clients to make the trek several blocks from the clinic to Vernon Park, where public drinking and drug use is a longstanding problem.
Germantown Community Connection held a meeting just last week to discus this wrinkle and Fastman was there too.
Residents say the impact from Parkside clients’ behavior has gotten steadily worse in the three years since the drug treatment program opened at that site.
“My staff has been picking up hypodermic syringes on the sidewalk,” said Mark Sellers, president of the board at the Germantown Historical Society. “That is completely unacceptable.”
Sellers said the behavior of many clients severely hampers business on that section of the Avenue.
Karen Anderson said it’s even worse if you live there. Behind the clinic and in a nearby alleyway, “They’re either shooting up or they’re turning tricks,” she said.
Ironically the neighborhood gets better at night, when Parkside closes, she said. “Nighttime comes and the street clears out and it feels much safer.”
Art Fastman stood and took it. He took over NHS’s eastern region for addiction services three months ago, and he thinks engaging with the neighborhood, even on these difficult issues is a key to making the facility work.
Fastman attended both recent meetings with administrators from the facility, and last week also with a few clients.
Making the fixes neighbors want may take a while, Fastman said. Some neighbors asked if he could hustle the 230 or so clients out of the area once they received their treatments, which include doses of the drug methadone to help manage opiate withdrawal.
What Fastman suggested instead was quite the opposite: finding ways for clients to engage more directly with the surrounding community.
Doing that, he said, can help motivate, and give guidance for behavior. And in the end, he suggested, it may help build something they need as much as local residents do – a community where they feel safe and ready to invest themselves.
“It’s important for us to teach our clients self responsibility and community responsibility,” Fastman said.
He said many of the people struggling with addictions at Parkside are not welcome even in their own homes, and they have to learn how to live in functioning relationships when they may not have any of their own.
It’s why he was so eager to do his Judo with residents’ complaints, seeing them as a form of engagement and care.
It may be the best opportunity some of his clients get to “learn to be in the community, learn to be in the family, then learn to be productive,” he said. “That’s good recovery.”
Fastman said he and his Parkside contingent will keep working with the community as long as they are invited.
Another meeting is planned for Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Impacting Your World Church, 5507 Market Square.