NEW HAVEN >> While loitering is not illegal in New Haven, there are heightened concerns within the New Haven Police Department and the community about the number of people that can be seen hanging around 495 Congress Ave. on a regular basis.
“We constantly get complaints from the community,” Assistant Police Chief Achilles Generoso said. “It’s madness sometimes out there.”
Lt. Jason Minardi, the police district manager for the area, said he has been increasing his own presence around 495 Congress Ave. and has put officers in the region as much as possible, as there too many calls and reports of people urinating in the area, performing sexual acts, or doing drugs on neighboring streets and on private property.
At that Congress Avenue address is a treatment center for substance abuse addiction run by the APT Foundation.
The APT Foundation is one of 26 medication assisted treatment centers in the state that prescribe methadone, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. People often travel to different towns to get the treatment that suits them best, said Mary Kate Mason, a spokeswoman for the department.
“I don’t think there’s that few methadone clinics,” Mason said. “I do think people do travel to the clinic that works for them for a variety of reasons.”
Just down the street from the treatment center is John C. Daniels School. A woman who works at the school, who asked to remain unnamed because she did not have permission to speak to the press, said that there are safety concerns among faculty about the proximity to the APT Foundation and the large groups of people usually gathered there. William Clark, chief operating officer for the district, said the district would not make a formal comment on the issue.
Lynn Madden, president and chief executive officer of the The APT Foundation said she has met many times with the city and representatives of the police department about their concerns.
“We’ve tried to be very responsive and open to their concerns,” Madden said. She added that the APT Foundation has increased staff presence in the parking lots to encourage people to leave more quickly and, on a bigger scale, is looking to open more treatment centers outside of New Haven proper to bring treatment options to more communities.
A new center is set to open this summer in West Haven, she said, and when it does, she estimates several hundred people will be diverted from the Congress Avenue location to that one.
“People really need access to these medications,” Madden said. “It’s about the only effective way to treat opioid dependence.”
The APT Foundation provides methadone or buprenorphine in medication-assisted treatment to those struggling with opioid addictions. The centers also have an outpatient program, provide residential support, and job training. Madden said the treatment center on Congress Avenue serves approximately 1,500 clients right now, though not all come on a daily basis.
Madden also said that she has suggested the city relocate a bus stop that is across the street from the treatment center, to help decrease foot traffic in the area.
Minardi said that he is not against methadone treatment or medication assisted treatment for addiction, but too many people loitering around the treatment facility creates problems for the department.
“By not leaving the area they are bringing blight,” Minardi said.
Generoso said he estimates that more than 500 people every day travel from other municipalities, mainly Waterbury, for methadone treatment on Congress Avenue. That has “unfortunate collateral damage” for the city, he said.
There are many reasons why a person may travel to another town or city for medication assisted treatment, said Robert Lambert, executive director of Connecticut Counseling Centers which does provide medication assisted treatment for clients.
One of those primary reasons he said is stigma.
People may not want their peers, family, and friends to know they are seeking help at a treatment center, so they may travel far distances every day for treatment, Lambert said.
“The biggest barrier to treatment is stigma,” Lambert said. “People who are addicted are reluctant to come out of the shadows.”
“(Addiction) is seen as a moral failing … rather than the brain disease it really is,” he said.
Connecticut Counseling Centers has a location in Waterbury and plans to open a second one in the city within the next two months to address the growing needs of the community.
Dr. Joseph Conrad, executive director of the Waterbury facility, said that counseling is a required part of the treatment at the center, and that is not appealing to everyone seeking help for a substance abuse addiction.
Conrad also said it should not necessarily be assumed that people who tell police they are from Waterbury are necessarily from Waterbury. Sometimes clients withhold identifying information because of stigma, he said.
Madden said the most important thing in getting more people access to treatment is a change in public opinion about addiction. It should be seen as a chronic illness, she said.