Exponents, Phoenix Houses want to expand local options

Phoenix Houses staff at a candlelight vigil during International Overdose Awareness Day this summer. (Phoenix Houses)

BROOKLYN — Two nonprofits aiming to expand substance-abuse assistance for Bedford-Styuvesant got a boost from the local community board.

Exponents, a Manhattan-based organization that assists clients impacted by HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, incarceration and mental health challenges, wants to operate a mobile van to reach people in need. The Phoenix Houses of New York and Long Island addiction treatment organization aims to open a crisis-stabilization center. 

Community Board 3 executive board members voted to support both missions in Bed-Stuy at a Nov.16 meeting.

Donald Powell, Exponents’ senior director of programs and development, said the idea of having a mobile van in Bed-Stuy started a year ago—staffers noticed that 32% of their clients came from neighborhoods such as Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, and East Flatbush. 

“Dead addicts don’t recover, so you’ve got to meet people where they are,” Powell said. “But more importantly, you can’t leave them there. You’ve got to figure out what it is that they need, in conjunction with them and figure out how to provide those services.” 

Brooklyn had the city’s second highest number of overdose deaths, with 400 fatalities between the months of January and September 2021, the latest period available. 

In 2020, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights had a rate of 30.8 unintentional overdose deaths per 100,000 residents.

The board has heard concerns about a mobile van, including complaints from residents about illegal activities taking place near sites that have provided similar services.

“We had a shelter that opened up across from some of the houses, and it was a disaster,” said Henry Butler, the community district manager. “Men exposing themselves to kids and women.”

Joseph Turner, president and CEO of Exponents, told the board that Exponents is confident the van would not be used as a hangout spot.    

“We’re looking to have a small footprint in Bed-Stuy,” he said. “It’s a mobile one, it will not be a big building on Fulton[Street] and Washington[Ave]. It will not be there…to attract a crowd to hangout. We plan to go from trouble spot to trouble spot.” 

Powell stated that the Exponents team, which is exploring where the van will make stops, wants to provide services at least twice a week. Exponents is seeking support for its application to the state Department of Health Overdose Prevention Initiative to provide mobile services.

Help where it’s needed

Phoenix Houses responded to a state Office of Addiction Services and Support request seeking an organization to operate a crisis-stabilization center aimed at offering a wide range of services.

The nonprofit would like to house the center at its Brooklyn Community Recovery Center in Bed-Stuy.

“A huge piece of those stabilization centers are peer services that are provided by people with lived experiences and recovery, whether it’s substance use, mental health recovery, veterans’ recovery,” said Shaun Willis, director of recovery services and community outreach at Phoenix Houses. 

Bed-Stuy has a disproportionately high percentage of alcohol, binge alcohol use, while Brownsville and East New York have a disproportionately high percentage of emergency rooms for psychiatric hospitalizations, Willis said.

Bed-Stuy has a 21% higher binge-drinking rate, compared to 17% for the city overall, according to the latest NYC Community Health Profiles. The psychiatric hospitalization rate is also higher than it is citywide.

Phoenix House, which is looking to open the center in early 2023, is reaching out to city and state elected officials to build awareness and secure funding, Willis said: “We need everybody that is involved that we can, writing letters of support for us to say we think it’s a great idea for Phoenix House to put in a proposal for this application for the stabilization center.”