NEW HAVEN – Mayoral candidate Tom Goldenberg has accused Mayor Justin Elicker of devising a “secret plan” to launch safe injection sites downtown without community input, but Elicker maintains no official plans have been made.
Goldenberg, a Democrat and former engagement manager for McKinsey & Company, claimed at a Monday news conference that Elicker has been working to open supervised facilities for people to use injectable opioids since at least September, and has allocated about $200,000 to finance it without approval from the Board of Alders.
Standing on a Church Street sidewalk, Goldenberg held a printed copy of an email to Elicker from then-city Community Services Director Mehul Dalal. In the September email, which Goldenberg said he retrieved through a Freedom of Information request, Dalal outlined a potential timeline for planning and launching overdose prevention centers.
Goldenberg said the plans should have been made public.
“[Elicker] has claimed falsely that he’s been transparent about it, but now we have the documents,” he said.
But Elicker told CT Examiner on Monday that there are no firm plans for a safe injection site in New Haven. Rather, he said his administration is exploring the idea as a possible solution to lessen opioid overdoses.
“There is no secret master plan here,” Elicker said. “And our team is doing a lot to implement harm reduction strategies, including things like distributing a lot more Narcan, community training on Narcan, opening up a drop-in center to access services.”
Elicker also denied Goldenberg’s claim that he allocated $200,000 to finance a site in New Haven.
“I’m not sure where that comes from,” the mayor said. “I’d be interested in seeing where he got that from to correct any misinformation that he’s putting out there, but there’s been no funding allocated toward the safe consumption site.”
Elicker said opioid overdoses are a challenging issue and should not be politicized.
“Over 120 people in New Haven died of overdoses last year, and over 40 have already died this year alone,” Elicker said. “So this is a crisis that communities around the nation are facing as well, and we have to do more community to address the challenge to research backed strategies”
The city is exploring safe injection sites as a solution, similar to sites in Canada, several European countries and New York City.
But according to Goldenberg, nearby businesses and neighbors of a New York City site in East Harlem have complained to him about an increase in crime. Placing methadone treatment centers in minority neighborhoods has already created issues, he said, adding that safe injection sites could worsen the problem.
The APT Foundation, a nonprofit treatment program, operates two methadone clinics in New Haven; Goldenberg said there has been increased crime near the group’s Congress Avenue clinic – down the street from John C. Daniels School. But Elicker said the city is working to relocate that clinic to the former Gateway Community College campus on Sargent Drive.
Goldenberg also announced he’s stepping down from his position as a board director at Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, an independent organization serving hot meals and groceries to New Haven residents, after learning the nonprofit may get involved in a safe injection site plan.
“I am very much a believer in addressing food insecurity. I am very much a believer in addressing housing insecurity,” Goldenberg said. “But this is, to me, is not in line with the mission and values of the organization, and that’s why I feel like I need to resign.”
Elicker told CT Examiner that the city has talked to several of its nonprofit partners while exploring safe injection sites, and confirmed Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen is one of the organizations he’s speaking with.
On Thursday, the New Haven Health and Human Services Committee will address a request from Goldenberg to hold a public hearing on the future of safe injection sites in New Haven.
“I requested this hearing several months ago. This is an opportunity for the public to come forward having gotten this information and share how they feel, because these decisions should not be made behind closed doors,” he said at the conference. “They should be made in the light of day and with real community input. “
Elicker said if the city decides to move forward with safe injection sites, the upcoming meeting will not be the last.
“If we were to decide that this is something we want to pursue, we would not settle on a site before we significantly engage the community on it,” he said. “But if we were to move forward, that’s a long way off.”