West Asheville needle exchange, free café raise community complaints

Trinity United Methodist Church meeting
ON THE WESTERN FRONT: Community members fill Trinity United Methodist Church for an Aug. 9 meeting to discuss safety concerns over four businesses and organizations in West Asheville. Photo by Cathy Cleary

Several hundred community members packed Trinity United Methodist Church on Aug. 9 to discuss neighborhood concerns surrounding four businesses and organizations operating at 610 Haywood Road — The Steady Collective, Firestorm Books and Coffee, Kairos West Community Center and 12 Baskets Café — that some say have reduced the area’s safety by offering services to drug users and homeless clients.

Business owners and residents have been meeting since early July to address complaints of increased disruption and discarded trash, including used hypodermic needles. But tensions ran higher at the Aug. 9 meeting in the wake of four Notices of Violation issued by the city of Asheville the day before. The Steady Collective and Firestorm were given 30 days to correct violations of operating a needle exchange, while Kairos West and 12 Baskets were asked to stop operating a shelter in an area not zoned for that activity. Should the groups not address those violations, they face civil penalties of up to $100 per day.

While the meeting became heated at times as attendees voiced a range of concerns, Cat Matlock, owner of West Asheville Yoga Studio, said she hoped the community could work out a solution. “Nobody is saying we shouldn’t feed people,” she explained. We’re not saying it’s not a good idea to provide clean syringes, but I have concerns as a business owner and a mother.”

Libertie Valance, co-owner of Firestorm, said that “Firestorm has been in dialog with our neighbors to address issues for weeks and it has been productive. We are working to develop actionable plans and will continue to do so.” Referring to The Steady Collective needle exchange, which operates out of Firestorm on Tuesday afternoons (see “Less damage done,” Aug. 8, Xpress), Valance was quick to add, “There won’t be any disruption to the needle exchange service.”

The Steady Collective’s Hillary Brown summarized the impact of the group’s work at Firestorm. The organization hands out naloxone kits to reverse the effects of opioid overdose; 47 recipients so far this year have reported back to Brown and other volunteers that they had to use the kits, meaning those overdoses were not fatal.

According to Nancy Hyton, secretary of the West Asheville Business Association, the Asheville Police Department presented at the last association meeting on July 26. The APD community relations liaison explained that the department didn’t want to shut down 12 Baskets, a free café serving lunch from Kairos West Monday through Friday, because it provides a service. However, the department claimed that the number of complaints filed in the neighborhood — including drug use, trespassing and syringes discarded on a nearby playground — had risen dramatically in recent months.

In a public letter issued Aug. 10, Interim City Manager Cathy Ball clarified that “The city is not shutting down the operations of these tenants.” Ball explained that Notices of Violation are routine and that city staff will work with the organizations to help them understand the options available to bring them into compliance.

Meanwhile, the businesses in and surrounding 610 Haywood continue to discuss ways to address neighborhood concerns. “We are working together. We want to affirm that we are allies,” Valance said.

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About Cathy Cleary
Cathy Cleary works with gardens and food. Her cookbooks include "The West End Bakery Cafe Cookbook" and upcoming "The Southern Harvest Cookbook." Find her blog at thecookandgarden.com She is the co-founder of non-profit FEAST Asheville, providing edible education to kids. Follow me @cathyclearycook

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13 thoughts on “West Asheville needle exchange, free café raise community complaints

  1. jason

    It’s time the West Asheville community stand up and force these businesses that promote drug use and enabling out of the community. This behavior should not tolerated or accepted. The amount of drug users and transients squatting in West Asheville has grown exponentially over the past several years. I’ve been here over 40 years and seen the community change, and this is not a change for the better. You can’t keep feeding the rats and wonder why you have an infestation. Enough is enough. Syringes are everywhere in West Asheville. Ingles is the new hot spot to OD. The number of homeless encampments on the greenway is out of control. The COA needs to wake up and clean up this mess. Many of us are trying to raise families in a safe environment.

    • Lou

      Seriously? Rats? So much empathy…perhaps you should run for office.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    When will they open other centers in N. Avl or Biltmore Village where their church is, so that the customers have other choices ?

  3. Theodore Robinson

    I would like to support those businesses that have chosen to lend a hand to The Steady Collective needle exchange program and their program supplying naloxone kits. By doing this, quite simply, Hillary Brown and Libertie Valance are SAVING LIVES. As a former instructor of Criminal Justice with an MPR with honors, I defy anyone to show scientific proof that needle exchange programs increase drug usage. What needle exchange programs do is promote the health and welfare of everyone in the community. Furthermore, the availability of naloxone kits are saving so many people who have fallen prey to the opioid epidemic sweeping this nation. It is time for Asheville to wake up and join the progressive communities that are making a difference for their people. Those who are worried about the used needles in the park, why don’t you organize a trash pick up club and become part of the solution to your concerns. Again, thank you Hillary and Libertie.

    • jason

      It shouldn’t be the responsibility of citizens to organize syringe clean ups in the public parks. It’s also not the citizens responsibility to provide clean needles and naloxone kits. If these people want help, there are places to receive it. The problem is, these people do not want help and do not want to stop doing drugs. It’s getting to the point that resources should not be spent to constantly deal with these people. The community has a right to live in a safe clean environment without constantly dealing with these people.

  4. Johnny to the A

    The liberal agenda of helping everyone is unsustainable. It has become so extreme that it is now hurting those in the mainstream that keep Asheville and it’s unique neighborhoods inhabitable.

    But please do continue. The burning of Asheville provides such a beautiful glow…

  5. John Penley

    My family attended and have supported Trinity Methodist Church all my life. I grew up going to church there every Sunday. My grandfather was a Methodist Preacher and I guess the Methodist Church was a big part of my developmental life including Boy Scout Troop 3 at Trinity. I must ask why did the church host this meeting ? Could it not have been held elsewhere ? Whetever people may believe about these issues I always thought the Methodist Church helped the poor, the addicted and those in need of food and housing so when I find the church I grew up in used to host a forum that pits the haves VS the have nots I am upset that Trinity hosted this and think they should not have done so and told those who organized it to take it somewhere else. My grandfather would have suggested the Baptist Church down the street.

  6. Wanting more...

    It would be nice to have some in depth reporting. What were the violations? What are the businesses concrete plans for coming into compliance? With out those details all opinions are based on personal biases. I mean coming into compliance with city regulation sounds good, but are those regulations overly burdensome that any organization operating with in them can no longer function? What about needle exchanges? I read the linked article on “Less damage done” and it just leaves more questions. Do needle exchanges give out one clean for one used? The name implies that to me but it is unclear if that is the case. It almost sounds like they give out clean needles and just also provide a safe disposal place for used needles. If it’s actually the second way that the programs operate it is easy to see why people complain about more needles flooding their communities, it would give drug users incentive to discard an old needle wherever so they personally wouldn’t be tempted to reuse it and they can get a new one free. But I have no idea how it works in reality, because of my own ignorance of the issue, and the lack of detail in the article has not helped to dispel my ignorance.

    • Virginia Daffron

      Hi Wanting more… Thanks for your comment. We do hope to continue to follow this story, and your outline of some of the questions you’d like to see answered is helpful to us. I appreciate your input.

  7. People need unions and workers’ collectives, not liberals trying to fix every problem under the sun. The lumpen class cannot be fixed. The working class deserve respect for the value they create, including the value of their personal property.

    • SpareChange

      Strongly agree. Those living at the margins should not be discarded. Focused assistance (whether from public, private, or not for profit entities), aimed at assisting them in attaining greater mental, physical and economic stability, is a worthwhile endeavor. However, those efforts need not (and should not) come at the expense of other classes and groups of people who are trying to subsist (and maybe even prosper).

      I’m a bit disappointed that the good folks at Firestorm don’t see that they need to do a lot more to engage working people, and that their embrace of those at the furthest margins, while commendable at first glance, is very counter productive politically. We have to ask, who are the central and the key players in this society that can bring the kind of changes we need? I think that both in our politics, and in our understanding of things, we have to move beyond an obsession with those at the margins, and stop framing their interests in a way that ultimately alienates others.

      This kind of moralistic, “screw the neighborhood, and the neighbors, and the surrounding small businesses” attitude may leave some thinking they are fighting the good fight on behalf of those with profound problems, but it is not advancing the interests of either those they believe they are serving, nor that of a broader political agenda bringing change to the community or society at large. It is merely pitting those with nothing, against those who have a little.

      • SpareChange

        I should have said, that the “manner” in which advocates are embracing those at the margins (which in my opinion is pitting their interests against those of many others in the community), is what is counter productive politically. Not that they are seeking to assist them.

  8. Claire

    These entities are providing needed services and preventing death and the spread of disease. Maybe the town should step up instead of pushing citizens in need away and help the collective. Homeless and drug addicted people are still citizens and until we have actual drug rehab available to all and employment that can support a person in a decent house (and some decent affordable housing) we, like every other town in America will have these citizens in need. Yeah, no one wants needles in their yard or playground. But saying “not here” is not curing the problem. How could we support the collectives and make these needed services better for everybody?

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