'We're a dumping ground': Newark residents hoping to fend off new drug treatment center

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on November 18, 2015

Unib “Shaw” Shaida, who owns an auto repair shop on Frelinghuysen Avenue in Newark, and residents Teresa Wright and Barbara Terry stand alongside a sign aimed at discouraging drug dealers and addicts from loitering around Frelinghuysen Avenue in the city's South Ward. The trio are among a coalition of neighbors protesting a new drug treatment facility proposed for the area.

 

NEWARK – The signs read "Bus Stop Not Drug Stop" "No Drug Dealers" and "Don't Tread On Me".

Over and over, Unib "Shaw" Shaida and his crew at Metro Auto Service have trotted out of their shop to post them along of Frelinghuysen Avenue in an attempt to stop the steady parade of hustlers, prostitutes and drug addicts from loitering in the area. Eventually the signs turn up missing and life in this desolate strip of the South Ward goes on as usual.

"We're in a turf war," Shaida said.

Now, however, he and a coalition of neighbors have banded together in hopes of stopping another drug treatment center from moving into the area, which they claim would make its already grave issues worse.

Willie Jetti, the president of a newly formed neighborhood group dubbed the Community Awareness Project, said he and others have seen the effects as similar facilities - including at least half a dozen halfway houses and methadone clinics – that attract new addicts and the dealers that serve them.

"It's like vultures feeding on prey," he said. "We have people defecating in front of our homes, people using drugs outside of our homes. That's all because the clinic's here, and that draws a crowd that's unwanted."

The new center, planned for a parcel at 19-33 Fenwick Street, appeared before the Zoning Board in October to seek a variance that would allow it to set up shop. Contact information for the applicant, Greenbranch Recovery, could not immediately be located.

Though residents say they learned of the hearing just two days prior, they rounded up a large enough group of supporters to delay a decision until a meeting this Thursday. This time, they are planning on filling two school buses with residents rearing to tell the powers that be they've had enough.

"We are a dumping ground over here. We're a dumping ground for the drug addicts, for the dealers, the trash. Just everything," said Teresa Wright, who has lived in the neighborhood for the last 32 years.

The battle comes just as a small glimmer of hope had begun to shine for the long-impoverished area near the Elizabeth border, nestled between Newark Liberty International Airport and Weequahic Park.

The Port Authority is pursuing a $1.5 billion extension of the PATH train line to the nearby airport that would include a new station in the South Ward that advocates might bring sorely needed jobs and economic activity to the area.

South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, a strong supporter of the proposed extension, said he is opposing the new treatment center, though he admitted there was little officials could do to stop it aside from urging zoning officials to consider the long plight of its would-be neighbors.

"We can't stop that kind of transaction, you're selling that property to a private person," he said. "But when your use is not conducive to the community and the community opposes it, that's where we get involved."

Residents like Jetti say they recognize the needs of both drug addicts, and the treatment proprietors seeking to help them. Still, he is holding out hope that he and his neighbors might be heard as well.

"It's just too much for us to bear," he said. "Sure, your business will prosper, but at what cost?"

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