Bethany Place is learning that ignoring Belleville city leaders is not an effective strategy.
The city notified Bethany Place in October that it needed a variance to operate its controversial needle exchange program for drug users, but the organization never applied for one. So now the city is going to court to force the issue.
The program is not working well in the city's eyes; that's why it's pushing the variance requirement. According to the city, nearby residents have found used needles and syringes in their yards and the police have seen drug use outside. Bethany Place's suggestion that those folks just need more education isn't appeasing residents or the city.
And is it accomplishing its mission: To prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS? The program began in 2009, but a 2011 state report says that for six years, St. Clair County had the fifth highest number of new HIV and AIDS cases among Illinois counties.
Even if it is reducing HIV and AIDS cases, a program that enables drug users and adds to the potential for fatal overdoses raises serious concerns. Parents like Karen Irvin, whose son died of an overdose after visiting Bethany Place, feels strongly that the program should be stopped.
If this program is going to continue, Bethany Place is going to have to make its case rather than ignore the city's concerns and hope the concerns go away.