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.