Guest Column: Needle exchange

Last night (Jan. 18) I was witness to the shameful display that was the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals review of the permit to allow THAT Place to operate from the building at 201 Seventh St.

THAT Place—short for Total Health Awareness Team—does Rockford a valuable social service in providing drug counseling and needle exchange programs. By Illinois statute, for them to operate a needle exchange program (which they have done quite successfully for 10 years) in this state they must do “scientific research.” And this is what the review was about—to hear proponents say firsthand that some sort of “research” was taking place—then use this against them because the zoning ordinances for Seventh Street do not allow for “scientific research.”

For THAT Place to comply with the law, they gather statistics from their clients and pass this information on to the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, which does the actual research and analysis of national data on substance abuse. THAT Place also uses this information to improve their program as any business would use what it learns to enhance its appeal and provide better service to its customers. However, this was construed as “research” and again used against them.

THAT Place has no beakers, no lab rats, no “test subjects,” and no advancement of science in any way, shape or form in their local facilities. The “research” is a legal fiction devised by the state to appease conservatives who do not believe in such programs on face value. Such a view was evident in our City Council chambers as forces were organized against THAT Place.

It was on this thinly-based technicality the Mid-Town District Association and the City Council had decided they were going to keep people seeking a healthier life from walking the streets of the Mid-Town District by ruling that THAT Place would be in violation of zoning in the area that does not allow “scientific research.” Doctors and clinics, beware—you may be next—for finding out what is wrong with your patients and using science to cure them or to report your findings to any university or major hospital with a research program—in, say, Alzheimer’s disease, you probably are not “zoned” for scientific research and may be asked to leave. Yeah, sure, but this points out the hypocrisy of this ruling.

The issue is not in the least about what is proposed to go on inside 201 Seventh St., for we all know that if someone wanted to do nano-technology “scientific research” there—the city would change the zoning in a heartbeat. This is about excluding people from being in a certain part of town. And the silliness of that is that a fair number of THAT Place’s customers live in the area.

Compounding that silliness is that most of THAT Place’s patrons would use the back door off the Second Avenue parking lot and are not going to be wandering up and down Seventh Street. Many, almost 70 percent, of their clients are middle- and upper-class white teen-agers from the east side of Rockford and outlying towns. So much for riff-raff hanging out—they’re your kids! To this end, many parents seek out THAT Place for much-needed help in dealing with their children’s addictions.

The Mid-Town District Association, which is behind the effort to exclude THAT Place from Seventh Street, believes they can rebuild the old Seventh Street business corridor back to its glory days of the early 1900s—making the area a high-rent “Greenwich Village” of Rockford. Good luck to them, for there is scant evidence that this is going to happen any time soon. More business is closed than open in the area. I see very few customers coming from the east side of Rockford to shop or eat here—these are neighborhood businesses that cater to the low-income residents of the city’s center.

The zoning board should reconsider granting THAT Place a waiver to operate in their desired location on an annually renewable term that analyzes their impact on the Mid-Town District. For now, this valuable service has no home, and no one in the City Council or Mayor’s Office has a better idea for their location than Seventh Street.

The irony of this is that if they really wanted to clean up downtown—they would move the bus station, library, courthouse and homeless shelters out of town, too. But their short-term defeat of THAT Place will only end up costing Rockford more, as the next step is the courtroom where the hypocrisy of this “final ruling” will be revealed. It will also cost us more as our loved ones are left without the guidance and support they need to conquer their drug addiction. And we’ll pay in health care costs when these people cannot easily obtain the free syringes they need to avoid acquisition and spread of AIDS through shared needles. Yes, it was pointed out that needles may be acquired at drug stores now—but not everyone is willing to waltz into Walgreen’s and ask for them or have the money to buy them. When you are giving them away—you know they are being used. If you are unfortunate enough to have your child try injected drugs, would you rather they do so with a new needle, or one fresh from someone else’s arm? When they’re hooked—where will you go for help—especially since most treatment centers are quite expensive—and you don’t have a health plan that covers these programs? You’ll turn to J. Bryan Latham and Jim Coulter of THAT Place.

Wake up, Rockford. You have a great program here—quit trying to stab it in the back.

If you need THAT Place’s services, call 519-2495 or e-mail TOBEPARTOFTHAT@AOL.COM

Allen Penticoff is Rockford Township 29Democratic Precinct Committeeman.

From the Feb. 8-14, 2006, issue

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