Wakefield drug treatment operator may have iffy track record

A building that used to house Balfor Industries at 4380 Bronx Boulevard may soon be home to a 108-bed chemical dependency treatment program.
Photo by Patrick Rocchio

The operator of a 108-bed combination drug rehab and homeless shelter facility planned for Wakefield may have a shaky track-record.

Allegations of poor management have plagued Project Renewal at their Times Square area Geffner House, a halfway house serving a population similar to the one the non-profit would serve under a city contract at 4380 Bronx Boulevard.

The New York Post reported on issues on Project Renewal’s single room occupancy building near Times Square in December 2011.

According to court documents, two lawsuits also have been filed in federal court by former employees Rodney Raspberry and Chester Johnson alleging discrimination and civil rights infractions.

Both men, who are black Muslims, alleged discrimination on the basis of their religion while working at a Project Renewal facility at 8 E. 3rd Street in Manhattan.

Senator Jeff Klein has been monitoring the situation, especially with three facilities serving homeless and/or chemically dependent people looking to set up shop within a few blocks of one another in Wakefield.

Project Return plans to renovate the now-vacant building that formerly housed Balfor Industries.

“Based on the information that has been relayed to my office, I have serious concerns about Project Renewal’s ability to move into the Wakefield/Woodlawn area in good standing with the community,” Klein said. “Recent news accounts, combined with the claims made in these lawsuits, have only heightened my concerns.”

As an agency, Project Renewal is not what it purports to be, charged Community Board 12’s chairman, Father Richard Gorman.

He said he believes the facility could be too large, where residents are bullied by other residents – one of the allegations the Post reported at Geffner House – if it is not properly managed.

“I don’t feel that it is the type of operator that we would want doing this work in our neighborhood,” Gorman said.

He said “herding” people who are homeless, have mental problems or drug addition into buildings with over 100 beds and creating a “homeless colony” is not an effective way to deal with that population.

Wakefield Taxpayers & Civic League leader Mary Lauro said she takes issue with the fact that this building is about 50 yards from the former Muller Army Reserve Center at 555 Niered Avenue, also a proposed site for homeless housing, and also about four blocks away from another facility for homeless individuals that will be opening on White Plains Road.

Her group and the Woodlawn Heights Taxpayers and Community Association have collected hundreds of petition signatures opposing the facility, she said.

Department of Homeless Services spokeswoman Heather Janik, who spoke on behalf of Project Renewal when their spokeswoman declined comment, said that outreach has been conducted.

“Homeless Services has had extensive meetings with community and elected officials surrounding this facility,” Janik said. “We will continue to outreach to them throughout the process. As with all our facilities, Homeless Services only opens a shelter when all applicable state and local laws and regulations have been met.”

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