Letter: 610 Haywood, free food and free needles

Graphic by Lori Deaton

In response to letters printed recently and many others over the last six months or so regarding the history at 610 Haywood Road, the address shared by Firestorm [Books & Coffee] and Kairos West, I believe there needs to be a little more understanding in the public square about activities and effects on the neighborhood and community.

Firestorm cooperative hosts The Steady Collective; Steady Collective gives out needles. Kairos West hosts 12 Baskets; 12 Baskets gives out food. Firestorm cafe is a cooperative bookstore, cafe and community center; they also, according to their website, support anarchist thought and culture. Kairos West is a community center located below Firestorm Books; they are an initiative of The Cathedral of All Souls, an Episcopal church in Biltmore Village.

I have lived off of Haywood Road for the last 15 years and have run a business for the last seven in close proximity to 610 Haywood Road. There have been negative impacts that seem to be in direct correlation with the services offered by the above groups. Needles discarded throughout the neighborhood, not to mention the sandboxes and play areas of two nearby schools. Human feces where it shouldn’t be. People using and selling drugs in public view and at times in broad daylight. Aggressive behavior and violent fights. Panhandlers walking directly out of 12 Baskets and leaning into windows of cars stopped for the traffic light at State Street and Haywood Road. Threatening and aggressive behavior toward neighbors and pedestrians. A squatters’ camp allowed to flourish on-site with de facto permission from the abovementioned groups. Individuals have been verbally threatened and/or had property damaged just for asking someone to not smoke that, inject that or make a drug deal there, or pee here or park where it’s clearly marked not to park.

Firestorm Books, The Steady Collective, Kairos West and 12 Baskets all have admirable goals and objectives. The doing of good deeds does not allow them the right to do as they please. The city has laws and rules designed to help us all get along with each other. When a community organization or business opens, there are agreed-upon uses for the premises that gain a permit from the city. When the agreed-upon use is changed or deviated from, and that change impacts the neighborhood negatively, the city and greater community need to stand up and hold those in charge accountable.

The abovementioned organizations have encouraged their supporters from near and far to write letters and make phone calls to support their cause. When a “community” meeting was scheduled over the summer to talk about the impact on the neighborhood, those allowed to speak were stacked with a disproportionate amount of supporters of these organizations. Some of the speakers and attendees in support of Firestorm and Kairos West were from other counties, towns and cities, let alone one woman from New Orleans! There have been posts on social media by supporters, not the organizations, threatening boycotts and aggression toward businesses who’ve spoken up about negative impacts they have experienced.

Encouraging supporters to saturate and spin opinion is a natural defensive reaction to something you believe in being threatened. I and many others do not have the time and or energy to write a letter every week to this or any other local publication expressing our experiences or opinions. Myself and many others have been negatively impacted by the changes that I believe originate from some of those seeking the services offered at 610 Haywood Road. These negative effects seem to be disregarded in the public discussion surrounding these organizations.

I hope that we all can become better neighbors and find acceptable resolutions to the issues we have. In light of some of the egregious acts of violence and destruction locally and nationally in what appears to be partisan absolutism, I look forward to a time with more civil discourse. This is all getting a little too crazy.

— John Root


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13 thoughts on “Letter: 610 Haywood, free food and free needles

  1. Justin Reid

    Things have “gotten a little too crazy” around Asheville for quite some time now as gentrification and the opioid crisis have raged across WNC. I love how conservative arguments cite the law when it involves people and organizations they don’t like, but then turn around an invoke the privilege of private organizations when they do things that infringe on others’ rights. It’s amazing how you think you’re somehow the victim in all of this as West Asheville is one of the most gentrified sides of town where people don’t have anywhere else to go. Honestly, it’s so bad over there you wouldn’t need Steady Collective to have crime problems due to the crazy space restrictions and lack of decent paying jobs. Sure Kairos West nor Firestorm would say to boycott anyone, but I now know of a certain stained glass shop that I won’t be giving my business to. Gentrifiers and NIMBYs such as yourself have made finding an apartment and living in Asheville a nightmare for a middle-class person such as myself, much less the condition of the homeless or addicts. People like Steady Collective help stop the spread of diseases that are contracted via dirty needles like AIDS and Hepatitis and only help addicts be less of a threat to themselves and others. If you really want to reduce crime and not encounter the desperate or the violent support making Asheville’s economy more just and less beholden to the tourist industry, the wealthy, and the powerful. You can’t just shove people in the shadows and expect the problem to go away.

    • Jason

      Gentrification is the best thing that has happened or happening in West Asheville in the 40 years I’ve lived here. I hope it continues on into the future.

      • Jason v.2.0

        The Latino and African American communities would probably disagree with you on that.

        • jason

          Maybe, maybe not. I like how you assume everyone who is non white is poor and unable to persist in Asheville. It’s interesting to me how people can move to Asheville and find great jobs, buy houses and raise families while the poor, lowly local just doesn’t have the opportunity.

          • Jason v.2.0

            If you lived in West Asheville back in the 90’s and early 00’s you’d know hat I mean. There was a thriving Hispanic population in the area at that time with several tiendas and restaurants serving that community. They were all victims of gentrification.
            Also the now hipster enclave of East-West Asheville had a far larger African American community at the time that was not just Burton Street and Pisgah View. Many of that community were forced out by rising rents, and property taxes, coupled with a dearth of opportunities for employment and recreation.
            Where are those communities now?
            Both communities were replaced with mostly white people, whom banks more readily lend money to, whom are perceived as less dangerous, and whom businesses are more likely to hire.
            It’s called Gentrification and it hurts communities.

  2. SpareChange

    I greatly appreciate Mr. Root’s thoughtful and nuanced analysis of the situation around 610 Haywood. I have also thought it unfortunate that too often the discussion has become polarized. I think that both in our politics and in our understanding of things, we have to move beyond framing the interests of those at the margins in a way that ultimately alienates others. This kind of moralistic, “Hey, we are doing good work, so 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. However, it is not advancing the interests of either those they believe they are serving, nor that of a broader political agenda aimed at bringing change to the community or society at large. It is merely pitting those with nothing, against those who have a little.

  3. Jessica

    I for one am tired of all the wonderfully privileged people who apparently never experienced harassment prior to these services being offered. People will die if the needle exchange is forced out. People will go hungry without 12 baskets. Can all of these wealthy folks just live with the fact that they too will be bothered now? Or do people need to die so they can go back to their safe little bubbles?

  4. Red Herring

    Could you please be a bit more specific about needles being left in play areas and sandboxes of neighborhood schools. Do you have some photos ? Which schools ? I actually don’t believe you and have seen this same BS repeated about needle exchanges in other parts of the country but when asked to provide evidence it never seems to appear. A scare tactic and fake news and honestly I believe you are lying about this.

    • SpareChange

      It would seem that you have not really followed this issue as it has evolved in Asheville and many other places. Quite apart from where one stands on the question of providing free syringes to drug addicts, there can be no doubt that once used, their safe disposal is a continuing problem.

      While I have questioned the wisdom of having a needle program at 610 Haywood because of the absence of broader approval and support from the city and local medical authorities, and due to both its predictable and unanticipated consequences for the neighborhood, its residents and local businesses, I’m more generally supportive of both such programs, and of the efforts to clean up the dirty needles left behind. I’ve therefore appreciated the efforts by Steady Collective to clean up discarded used syringes in the area. If there were no problem then there would have been no need for Steady Collective to have already organized three such needle pickups in that vicinity (where, yes, there are schools, churches, and numerous residents who have discovered discarded needles on their properties).

      Given your level of skepticism, perhaps the best proof that this is neither “BS” nor a “scare tactic,” much less outright “lying,” would be to join the volunteers for the next syringe pickup being organized by Steady Collective, next Sunday morning, Dec. 2nd. Details are on their Facebook page. Alternatively, just do a search for any of several articles from local news outlets on the problem. Such as these, and numerous others that are easily found online:

  5. Enlightened Enigma

    Justin , your comments are rather rambling but gentrification has a long way to go in Westville … it’s just beginning! The citizens should simply require that all ‘needle programs’ be conducted downtown at the Buncombe Co Health Dept which is THE most appropriate place for this health need. All Souls Episcopal church should relocate their beautiful Kairos dining facility over to their area in Biltmore Village, which would be ideal for the consumers of food and the tourists who would get a better cross section view of Asheville … I believe they have kitchen/dining onsite and they could have wonderful outdoor tents for nicer days of meal sharing… even tourists could be included as donations are acceptable!

  6. jason

    I wish it was the old bike store still. I don’t like addicts, junkies and the travelers.

  7. Enlightened Enigma

    Yes, lots of pseudo homeless travelers innundate 12 Baskets/KairosWest restaurant daily…

  8. GC

    Used needles in front of my house in “East West” Asheville. The guys that hang out on the sidewalk and drink at least put their empties in my recycling can.

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