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Harlem health clinic set for demolition under city plan

Harlem health clinic to be demolished under city plan
Harlem health clinic to be demolished under city plan 02:20

NEW YORK -- A community health clinic on city land in Harlem is preparing to transform into a supportive housing tower with wraparound services.

The Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center has sat along Amsterdam Avenue between West 145th and 146th streets for more than 50 years. Staff and clients will soon have to adapt to the major upcoming changes.

Emma L. Bowen stood out as a visionary when she created the Upper Manhattan Mental Health Center in 1969, offering therapy, treatment and substance abuse recovery in one building.

"You consider the needs of mental health at that time in the absence of mental health care, and you look at where we are today, you see that the need is even greater," said board chair Patricia Jordan.

Jordan has spent 40 years working at the center that is now named after her late friend, learning how to break through the stigma set firmly within certain cultures in Harlem.

That struggle continues today. Yumi Rodriguez had an anxiety attack worrying about her chronically-ill family members, who then questioned her need for therapy.

"It just felt like I was carrying the weight of everything on my shoulders," Rodriguez said, "so I sought help, and this is in my community."

Her therapy sessions have inspired a new career geared towards giving back.

"I just felt seen and heard, and then that helped me pursue my other passions," said Rodriguez. "Now I'm going to go to school for climate justice, so kind of like helping marginalized communities also seek help."

The Bowen Center's services start from preschool, offering specialized classes for students suffering from trauma or developmental challenges.

"It's rewarding to see that those children advance and move on to another state of their life," Jordan said.

The Rainbow Club in the center has a hangout room for adults with special needs. The pantry offers free fresh food for families. Plus, the ABLE House the center owns in East Harlem holds 20 beds for men and women recovering from substance abuse, where they can work on their GEDs, employment and permanent housing.

"Whatever is needed to help them become whole so they can transition back into the community," Jordan explained.

Later this year, though, the center will face a major shift, with the city land it sits on set to transform into a nine-story, 200-bed tower supporting the homeless, seniors and low-income families of the neighborhood, with space for a newly-built Bowen Center below. None of the apartments will be market-rate.

During construction, Bowen Center staff will work at full capacity at 530 W. 135th St., near Broadway, 10 blocks away.

"Sometimes when you go from an old design to a new design," Jordan said optimistically, "it makes for a situation where it's even more comfortable."

In a statement, Leora Jontef, NYC Health + Hospitals assistant vice president of housing and real estate, said:

"NYC Health + Hospitals is proud to use our land to create housing for our patients and members of the local community and do our part to address the housing crisis in New York City. Stable housing is critical to managing your health, and housing at 1727 Amsterdam Avenue will help those residents live their healthiest lives. We are proud to partner with Emma Bowen for a seamless transition and uninterrupted services during construction, and we look forward to their return to brand new space at 1727 as soon as we can."

The city expects the center to operate in the temporary location for four to five years, but has not yet announced a date for demolition. The NYC Housing Conference reports the west side of Harlem has 445 affordable housing units in the past decade, below the citywide average of 1,227.

To learn more about the development, click here.

Have a story idea or tip in Harlem? Email Jessi by CLICKING HERE.

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