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Neighborhood pressure mounts on Camino Nuevo rehab center in Albany

Liz Hitt, executive director of the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society,  Albany County Legislature chair Andrew Joyce and District 2 Albany County Legislator Merton Simpson.
Dave Lucas
Liz Hitt, executive director of the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society, Albany County Legislature chair Andrew Joyce and District 2 Albany County Legislator Merton Simpson.

The Albany County Legislature has joined the chorus of public officials and local businesses seeking to relocate a drug treatment facility in Albany.

Camino Nuevo, a Central Avenue treatment facility that recovery programs, medication-assisted treatment and a safe-haven for people in recovery, has been targeted since it first opened its doors in 2015. There have been many complaints about the impact the facility has had on the surrounding neighborhood. Now, the Democrat-led Albany County Legislature is calling on the state to step in.

Legislature chair Andrew Joyce says just 40% of Camino Nuevo patients live in Albany County, and only 15% are city residents.

“This is an issue that's been taken on by City Hall and the state legislature," said Joyce. "There must be a better location that doesn't so negatively impact the residents and around Central Avenue are small businesses. And people trying to get to work and go to school in the morning. I was born and raised on Central Avenue practically. A Blessed Sacrament School Student. I got my hair cut right up the street. I was married at Blessed Sacrament church, and to see the stories from local nonprofits and local businesses and individuals that live around here. This is heartbreaking. This is not the normal, this is not something that we need to accept.”

Joyce, holding a box of used syringes gathered from the neighborhood, told reporters he'd like to see the facility relocated to a more centralized location away from small businesses and schools. He says there are now 80 vacant storefronts including the recently shuttered TrustCo Bank branch and CVS pharmacy, insinuating Camino Nuevo has driven businesses out.

Luis Williams owns Celebrity Barbershop at 216 Central and has worked on the avenue for 20 years. He says 90% of the area businesses are Black-owned, adding he's never seen things as bad as they are now.

“If we look at the community that we're already in a hardship, so if you take something such as a clinic there, if I was a drug dealer, where would I go right to the clinic," Williams said. "So and then not to mention, you're bringing people here that are not even from his community? That's like, first off, if you run around and ask somebody where they're from, they're not gonna tell you Albany, New York. So you're bringing them here. And it's kind of like they get stuck here. You bring them here, they get stuck. Why would I go back home, when I can come stay right here and get whatever it is, from right here.”

Liz Hitt, executive director of the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society at 138 Central, is concerned about the safety of the non-profit's employees. She fears the facility may have to move.

“We fully support treatment, as does everyone here, said Hitt. "We want for people to get the help that they need to be employed, and to have their own apartment and to live successful lives...it's certainly not fair to the people that live in this block. In this area. We have children, we have families, we have schools, we have businesses, we have employees at risk. Several businesses have moved out of this block because of this condition. It needs to stop and it needs to stop now.”

District 2 Albany County Legislator Merton Simpson is demanding intervention from Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration.

"This is something that's totally controllable, but it has to come from the Governor, because it's been here this long because of the previous governor, and only the governor really right now... I mean, it's not something that county jurisdiction or city jurisdiction has control over. So the answer ultimately is the governor," said Simpson.

18 county legislators signed a letter sent to the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports expressing their concerns. The agency responded to a request for comment via email, stating in part that it does not select locations for treatment facilities and has had numerous conversations with city leaders and the provider to identify strategies to address concerns raised by the community.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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