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Neighbors at Harlem’s Bethel Manor Apartments say overdoses in hallways putting them at risk

<i></i><br/>Neighbors at Harlem's Bethel Manor Apartments say overdoses in the hallways are putting them at risk.
Lawrence, Nakia

Neighbors at Harlem's Bethel Manor Apartments say overdoses in the hallways are putting them at risk.

By TIM MCNICHOLAS, WALTER SMITH RANDOLPH

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    NEW YORK (WCBS) — Overdoses in the hallway, drug paraphernalia littered in the building, and two years of complaints without results. What’s a landlord to do but go to court?

In one Harlem apartment building, that solution hasn’t been quick. CBS New York’s investigative reporter Tim McNicholas took a look at how the delays have only put the tenants at a greater risk.

Jason Watson loves to show off some of his pictures, and hates to show off others – including photos of people passed out in his building’s lobby. At Bethel Manor Apartments on West 132nd Street, Watson wants to focus on the moments that fill his heart with joy while he raises his family, but he says that’s hard to do when people are passed out in the hallways.

Watson and his neighbors say for more than two years, people have been regularly overdosing after coming in and out of one apartment on the second floor. The NYPD says there have been 241 calls to 911 at the building in the last two years.

“I feel I have to say something, ’cause I’ll be damned if anything happens to my kids or anyone in this building,” Watson said.

Tenants say they sometimes find strangers unconscious with hospital bands still on their wrists. In the staircase, the neighbors find syringes, and small capsules that a law enforcement source tells CBS New York appear to be what the DEA refers to as “trash cans,” often used to store fentanyl and other dangerous drugs.

“I could push my stroller over something and track it in my house. Say my baby could be crawling on the floor, or my daughter could be sitting on the floor,” Watson said.

A recent report from the city’s Health Department said Central Harlem, along with the South Bronx and East Harlem, continue to experience the highest rates of fatal overdoses.

“It’s bad. It’s really bad,” Emily Gertz said.

Gertz works with Harlem United, a group that works to prevent overdoses.

“Poverty, discrimination, again, long-term disinvestment in this community makes it real difficult for people to thrive, and the pandemic only made that harder,” Gertz said.

While the area is hit harder than others, the entire city is seeing a rise in overdose deaths. That’s why Brooklyn City Council member Chi Osse spearheaded a law that requires the health department to offer free naloxone and training to bars and clubs. But the city’s health department says last year, 60 percent of fatal overdoses happened in private homes.

“Does there need to be a stronger emphasis on making sure Narcan is available in apartment buildings. in condo buildings?” CBS New York’s Tim McNicholas asked.

“Absolutely, and that’s in legislation that we’ve been trying to look at. We’re trying to make sure that Narcan is as successful as possible, whether it’s in delis or other locations, schools, and even apartment buildings,” Osse said.

While Osse works on a wider distribution of naloxone, neighbors hope the property management company, Concord Management of New York, forces the tenant out.

“Whenever we reach out to management its the same thing, we’re working on it,” one person said.

Court records show the owner, Bethel Manor LLC, has been trying to get the neighbor evicted since May of 2021. The company tells CBS New York the delays are due to a “backlog of cases” in court stemming from the pandemic:

We are working diligently with all necessary parties to remedy the situation, uphold a safe living environment at Bethel Manor, and protect our residents. Due to the COVID-era eviction moratorium and subsequent backlog of cases in court, the eviction process for the resident in question has been delayed. We have taken all required steps for eviction, are currently waiting for final approval from the court system, and are hopeful the eviction will be completed soon for the benefit of the residents living at Bethel Manor. While eviction is always the last resort, we must prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all other residents in the building.

A judge did side with the owner about two months ago, but the company says they are now waiting on a “final approval from the court system.”

“At the end of the day, removing the resident will help the residents, the tenants at Bethel Manor, coming home to a safe environment,” Jennifer Perez of Bethel Manor LLC said.

Watson shares a balcony with the apartment, and he’s finding those capsules just outside his back door. It’s one more reason to keep a close watch on his daughter.

“She don’t know what it is. Kids pick stuff up and put in their mouth,” Watson said.

It’s one more example of an epidemic that knows no boundaries.

We reached out to the state’s court system Monday afternoon and they said the city marshal had not completed all the necessary steps yet to get the eviction warrant.

“It’s mandatory practice that the Marshal must ask for a warrant in eviction cases. The public record in this case shows no such request as of this afternoon,” said Al Baker, the state Office of Court Administration’s communications director.

But records show that just hours after that statement, and days after the CBS New York Investigative Team started asking questions, the court received new paperwork from a city marshal to finally move the process along.

CBS New York will be following the process and will update this story with developments.

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