Residents vow to block drug treatment center

May 05, 1995|By Art Kramer | Art Kramer,Sun Staff Writer

Almost 200 angry residents from Southeast Baltimore and its environs, and most of their elected representatives, shouted down plans last night for a drug and alcohol treatment center in their neighborhood.

"I'm moving out of Greektown to get away from these problems: public intoxication and people using the street as a bathroom, burglaries. Now you're trying to bring the problem to [this area]," said Bobby DeWeese, 35, who is negotiating to buy a house in the neighborhood.

State Sen. Perry Sfikas told Mr. Wanger that Nehemiah House, which is proposing the center, might as well abandon its plans, or he will block them.

He pledged to enlist the support of U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, and other elected officials to block the center.

"If you continue to try to put this project here, we'll pull this thing through your nostrils," Mr. Sfikas said to raucous applause.

The meeting was organized by the St. Helena Community Association, and held at the St. Helena Community Association, 6509 Colgate Ave. It presented Nehemiah House program director John Wanger with an opportunity to calm community fears about the proposed treatment center.

The treatment center would open at the site of the last Army unit of the old Fort Holabird, to be vacated today by the U.S. Army Crime Records Center, which is relocating to Fort Belvoir, Va.

Mr. Wanger said the barbed wire surrounding the buildings would remain and that the program would use counseling, not methadone, as its primary treatment.

"Barbed wire won't keep those people away from the neighborhood," said St. Helena resident Joann Tepper.

"It's not a dry-out program," Mr. Wanger said, promising that clients would be detoxified in a hospital before being admitted for treatment at the proposed center. He added that the group's shelter in Rosedale in eastern Baltimore County has achieved a success rate between 70 percent and 85 percent since it opened in 1991.

Mr. Wanger stressed that the program had not received final approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, or local zoning approval. He said he would carry the crowd's opposition to Nehemiah House's board of directors, who will make the final decision whether to proceed.

"I hear you loud and clear," he said as the crowd hooted its opposition to the plan.

Residents were not reassured, and several charged that Mr. Wanger and Nehemiah House's board tried to sneak the project past the community.

"They didn't come in properly," said Baltimore County Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat. "They came in sneaking and lying."

He said he would try to persuade County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III to cut off any county funding for the treatment center.

Mr. Wanger told the crowd that about half the operating money for Nehemiah House's Rosedale center comes from the county.

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