Police have been paying very close attention to a Northeast Philadelphia drug addiction treatment facility recently, but it’s not the methadone clinic you might think it is.
The Healing Way clinic in Holmesburg, which opened controversially about a month ago at 7900 Frankford Ave., hasn’t yet become the nuisance that local folks have long feared it would. And the NorthEast Treatment Centers facility at 7520 State Road certainly isn’t the problem, either. It hasn’t even opened yet.
Actually, conditions around the SoarCorp Recovery Center at 9150 Marshall St. have grown intolerable in recent months, police say. According to state licensing records, the for-profit clinic has been open for almost seven years. This summer, police have stopped hundreds of people in the shopping center surrounding the clinic for a variety of violations ranging from relatively minor offenses such as loitering to more serious crimes like shoplifting and breaking into parked cars. In addition, narcotics officers have arrested at least eight people in the area since the start of July for selling drugs illegally, including marijuana, cocaine and prescription pills.
Soar has not been implicated in any violations of the law or formally linked to any alleged lawbreakers. In fact, police don’t track whether pedestrians and motorists they stop for investigation are clients of the facility. Yet, cops familiar with the site contend that the clinic is a magnet for disorder in the area of Roosevelt Boulevard and Welsh Road. People visiting the clinic routinely linger around and inside nearby businesses, while sometimes disturbing or accosting other patrons, several police sources say. Some of the loiterers appear to be high. The clinic parking lot has become an eyesore, too, with thousands of cigarette butts, papers and other debris littering the entrance and covering the sprawling asphalt perpetually.
“If I was there with my young kids, I’d be leery of the people I’m surrounded by,” Lt. Robert Muldoon of the Police Department’s Narcotics Field Unit said. “Yeah, the people have problems. But they don’t all come there, get treated and leave. Some of them hang out there all day long. (Some) have that stare about them, a blank stare and they’re wandering around aimlessly.”
The Times contacted Soar asking to discuss problems at the Marshall Street site, which has no actual access to Marshall Street. Instead, visitors must access the property through the Northeast Shopping Center, passing various shops, restaurants, banks, a public library and a career training academy, among other tenants, to reach the medical building that it occupies.
The company responded only by issuing a single-paragraph statement via email referencing its efforts to help people overcome addiction, to support the community and to be a “good neighbor.” The statement was not attributed to any company official, but rather the “Management.”
The Northeast Times’ own observations seem to support police officers’ claims. On one Thursday, July 31, a reporter arrived at the clinic at 11 a.m. and within about 90 minutes saw many of the same activities that officers say they see routinely.
One woman who appeared to be in her 20s was having a difficult time keeping her feet while standing alone on a sidewalk in front of the clinic. She was wavering from side to side in an apparent semiconscious state and seemed fixated on sucking her fingers.
About 20 other people were scattered outside the clinic in small groups, mostly smoking and speaking with one another. Two men walked to a parked car and removed a ticket from the windshield to inspect it. One of the men photographed the citation with his cell phone, then placed it back under the wiper.
A man stood behind a Dodge Durango with the tailgate open and invited others to view objects inside the vehicle. Several people approached the man intermittently, before the man closed the tailgate and a woman entered the driver’s seat. She drove the truck to another part of the parking lot, where she tossed a hand-held Walgreens shopping crate onto a pile of trash on the ground next to a Dumpster. The woman then began to sift through the pile, which included an office chair, a rolled-up rug and a plastic storage container.
Meanwhile, other people continued to mingle, some hugging each other, others yelling across the lot. A private security guard exited the clinic, but did not appear to ask anyone to enter the facility, to disperse or to otherwise change their behaviors. At one point, the security guard stood near the main entrance and smoked a cigarette in front of a “no smoking within 50 feet” sign.
After about an hour, the reporter went to a Dunkin’ Donuts at the opposite end of the shopping center parking lot facing Welsh Road. According to police sources, clients of the clinic routinely gather at the shop or a nearby Burger King before and after visiting the clinic. The reporter entered the doughnut shop at about noon, approached the front counter and saw a man pacing slowly around the dining area. The cashier asked the man if he intended to buy anything. The man said, “no.” The cashier ordered him to leave the shop.
Moments later, the man with the Durango from the front of the clinic showed up outside the doughnut shop. Carrying a shopping bag, he spoke with a woman who was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. They appeared to conduct a transaction. Then the man approached another woman on a sidewalk next to the shop and initiated a conversation with her. Two uniformed police officers stopped the man and questioned him. Within minutes, the officers had placed the man into a patrol car and were inspecting the contents of his bag and a backpack.
A police source later told the Times that the man was caught selling nonnarcotic items that had been stolen that morning from a Walgreens on Frankford Avenue in Upper Holmesburg. The store’s surveillance cameras recorded the man in the store, but the store declined to file a complaint about the alleged theft. Police booked the man anyway because he also was wanted on a bench warrant for an unrelated criminal case. Police did not arrest the woman he was with.
Crime in general is more concentrated near the clinic than other areas of the 8th district, police say. According to district supervisors, former Capt. Len Ditchkofsky first ordered extra cops in the area late last year in response to public complaints and crime rates in the area. The patrols have become more frequent this summer.
“We’ve noticed an uptick in shoplifting around there and in thefts from autos in the surrounding areas,” said Sgt. Mike Colello.
The focus area stretches from Roosevelt Boulevard to Blue Grass Road and from Welsh Road to Grant Avenue, according to Sgt. Mike Dougherty.
“We have our tactical officers assigned there because of the rate of crime that’s been going up and the complaints,” Dougherty said.
According to a police source, in a recent one-month span, patrol cops stopped almost 100 people for investigation in the area and arrested or issued citations to about half of them. Many subjects were wanted for failing to show up for court or for failing to pay previous tickets. Others were driving vehicles without a license or registration.
Police arrested one man for stealing metal from air conditioning units in the neighborhood and discovered he was a client of the clinic, Colello said. In an Aug. 11 case, police issued a summons to a man for blocking the entrance to the Dunkin’ Donuts. The man showed up at Night Court in the district on Aug. 22 to fight the summary charge. He argued that he had just bought some coffee and was catching a smoke while waiting for a contractor to pick him up for a construction job.
Municipal Court Judge Gerard Kosinski asked the defendant what time he starts work. The man said anytime between 7 and 10 a.m. Kosinski, noting that the violation occurred at 10:37 a.m., found the man guilty.
“We’re doing pedestrian stops and asking why people are hanging outside stores,” Dougherty said. “They’re allowed into stores, but you see the same people out there every day panhandling and you can’t do that, bothering people and asking for money.”
In the meantime, narcotics officers are working undercover to combat illicit drug sales in the parking lot. According to Muldoon, police have used surveillance and confidential informants to bust at least eight alleged drug dealers since July 3.
That first day, they locked up a man from Levittown who allegedly sold a small amount of Xanax to a woman in the lot near the Star Career Academy. Also that day, police followed a woman from the clinic to the Burger King on Welsh Road and saw her make transactions with several people. Officers stopped the Kensington resident, who allegedly had 158 prescription pills.
About a week later, narcotics officers arrested one man on Welsh Road and another in front of Paddy Whacks pub after seeing them do an alleged drug deal. Police found cocaine on both men, one from Bell’s Corner and the other from Bensalem.
On July 28, officers arrested a Tacony man and a homeless man after an alleged marijuana deal outside of Dunkin’ Donuts. One day later, a confidential informant allegedly bought 10 Xanax pills from a Kensington woman.
On Aug. 20, a confidential informant allegedly bought six Xanax pills from a Frankford man in the parking lot between the doughnut shop and the clinic, so police made another arrest.
Muldoon said that the illegal drug activity seems to gravitate toward the methadone clinic. On Aug. 20, for example, an informant went to the doughnut shop to try to buy drugs and met two different people. In both instances, the other person led the informant toward the clinic, where he was directed to someone else who had pills for sale.
“It’s not like they’re working together, but everybody seems to know everybody,” Muldoon said.
Despite the recent enforcement efforts, narcotics investigators haven’t seen much change in activity.
“Not at all,” Muldoon said. “The people up there are like oblivious to their surroundings. It’s like they’re in their own little world.” ••