As part of my mayoral campaign journey, I’ve been identifying issues and trying to understand them by gathering data and insights from the people closest to the problems and then publicly sharing what I’ve learned. I’m hopeful this approach will pave Huntington’s road to recovery as I dive into the most pressing issues that shape our city’s future.
Addiction Recovery Services
The opioid epidemic’s devastating impact on Huntington led to the establishment of a robust network of recovery services, supporting thousands in their battle with addiction and saving countless lives. However, some criticize Huntington’s 60+ sober living homes for attracting individuals suffering from addiction from beyond our region.
To better understand what is going on, I met with the Cabell County Recovery Coalition (CCRC), a group of sober living home owners dedicated to elevating the quality of recovery residences. The CCRC seems to me to be a group of the proverbial good guys–the providers who are working hard to compassionately serve people in recovery. Without them, the suffering in our community would undoubtedly be much worse. As I heard from one provider at the meeting, “Nobody wants to talk about recovery until a loved one needs care. Then, there isn’t enough.”
A significant challenge for the recovery community is the perception that individuals come to Huntington for rehab, relapse, and are then left homeless, adding to the city’s problems. I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal stories about this happening, but I haven’t been able to find data to support or refute the claim.
Leaving the meeting, I realized we need to start collecting comprehensive data to understand this challenge more fully. Identifying and addressing bad actors in the recovery space, as in any industry, is crucial. An immediate step toward tackling this problem is to start collecting data about who is being treated, where they are coming from, and the outcomes of the treatment. If we had that, we’d be able to separate fact from fiction and maybe turn a perceived negative into a positive for the city.
Economic recovery can only happen if we grow. That growth can come from projects like the $50M revitalization of the Prichard Building whose groundbreaking I attended this week. It also needs to come from private companies that want to bring new businesses to Huntington. I met with one of these developers to explore what it will really take to bring the kind of growth we want to Huntington. For instance, we talked about what hurdles need to be overcome to finally deliver on a long-promised grocery store for the Fairfield community. We also explored big ideas about how to turn 4th Avenue between Marshall’s Old Main and the courthouse into an innovation district that attracts global companies. To turn those dreams into reality, we are going to need more private sector investors, and I am convinced that we can make it happen.
Another component of economic recovery comes from diversifying our economy. Our best bet for economic diversification is for the city to work more closely with Marshall University. I’m proud of the progress we’ve achieved since I joined Marshall’s Board of Governors in 2017. At this week’s board meeting we authorized President Smith to proceed with plans that will bring new development to empty lots on 5th Avenue and 24th Street. We also reviewed our financial situation, and it showed that our strategic roadmap for prosperity is not just a plan on paper–it’s working. Enrollment is up almost 5%, revenues are higher, and our expenses are down. Huntington can embrace a similar roadmap for prosperity by partnering more closely with Marshall, and as mayor, I will be uniquely positioned to make sure that happens.
Veteran Service Organizations Recovering from Membership Loss
West Virginia used to have more veterans per capita than any other state in the country. That is no longer true, but we still rank in the top 10. As fewer people serve in the military, veteran service organizations are losing members. As a member of both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I’ve seen the decline first hand. Recently, I attended a VFW meeting at Post 9738 in Guyandotte to consider whether Post 1064 should merge with Post 9738. Arguments for and against consolidation are nothing new around here, and regardless of the result, I am encouraged that the thousands of veterans in our community are still dedicated to service and are willing to work together to ensure the health of our community.
I could write much more about all that I’ve been learning and am excited about the topics still to come. If you have any questions or thoughts about issues I should add to my list, just respond to this message and let me know.
Thank you for reading. Please share or forward this message to your friends and family members who want to help make Huntington a better place to live and work!