Director of non-profit needle exchange says she won’t bow to city demands to close

Hillary Brown, the director of the non-profit needle-exchange program Steady Collective, said she has no intentions of moving the program from the second-floor space over Firestorm books on Haywood Road after the city of Asheville issued a violation this week. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Hillary Brown, the director of the non-profit needle-exchange program Steady Collective, said she has no intentions of moving the program from the second-floor space over Firestorm books on Haywood Road.

Brown received notice that the city issued a permit violation for operating the program in the West Asheville corridor this week.

"We have every intention to stay at Firestorm," Brown said. "In this year alone, we've received 47 overdose reversal reports at the Firestorm location alone."

Brown said she feels the city is targeting the office in West Asheville due to the gentrification of the area.

The violation notice said in 30 days the city will start fining Steady Collective $100 a day unless it closes the site.

The non-profit does have the option of filing an appeal which would delay fines.

Brown operates another office doing the same type of outreach and assistance with needle exchanges and overdose reversal kits at the Haywood Street Congregation Church, which didn't get a citation.

"We know our work is needed, and it's not like the city hasn't known for years that we're operating in West Asheville," she said.

Brown said the program receives a large assistance amount from Buncombe County's Health and Human Services Department. She said funds have decreased in recent years, but that she's currently negotiating for a grant for 2019 from the department.

Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP) also operates a syringe exchange program. The office is in a residential and commercial neighborhood in Oakley and wasn't cited and never has been cited for any zoning violation.

Tracey Childers, who runs the program for the needle exchange and help for overdoses said the program demand is great and goes well-beyond the supply of syringes and other medical equipment to help those struggling with addiction.

"They are filled with gratitude and thanks," Childers said of those who use the program. "We also now have a certified peer support specialist who can help guide people into treatment and recovery."

As for Steady Collective, Hillary Brown said she will continue working with the office which is open on Tuesdays.

The city released the following statement regarding the citation for the non-profit and three other businesses along Haywood Road:

"We understand that people are concerned about recent public health and safety reports involving the West Asheville community. In response to those concerned I am providing the following information.
The City has issued Notice of Violations to the four organizations operating from 610 Haywood and the property owners. This includes Firestorm Books, Kairos West, The Steady Collective and 12 Baskets (Asheville Poverty Initiative), and the property owners. The City is not shutting down the operations of these tenants. We have issued Notice of Violations (NOV), which are a routine part of City process. The NOV is a tool to make the organizations aware of violations to the Unified Development Ordinance. Staff will work with each organization to help them understand the violations and options for how to become compliant.
Buncombe County Health and Human Services received public health complaints about activities in this area. City staff received several complaints from neighboring businesses, schools and residents. The City received complaints verbally from residents, anonymously through the Asheville App and has seen an increase in calls for service to the Asheville Police Department.
The complaints centered around health and public safety concerns. Specifically, the City received complaints about the following activities: loitering, camping, finding hypodermic needles littered on neighboring properties, witnessing intravenous drug use in public, defecating on neighboring properties, and harassment of neighboring businesses’ patrons, students and residents.
The City of Asheville values organizations providing services to the community. Staff are committed to helping organizations understand how to remain compliant in order to provide necessary services to the public. City staff have worked across departments to alleviate concerns of neighbors. Community Development convened several meetings between staff, neighbors and tenants. APD is in conversation with 12 Baskets about how to build relationships with their service recipients. And Planning & Zoning staff respond to complaints as part of a routine City process.
Staff will continue to work with the community to address the health and safety concerns in this area, and will schedule follow-up meetings with businesses and property owners as requested.
Thank you,
Cathy Ball
Interim City Manager"
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