Aiken County looks into regulation of drug rehab facilities, homeless shelters
Aiken County Council is exploring the possibility of regulating where homeless shelters, soup kitchens and drug rehabilitation facilities can be located.
Councilman Phil Napier made a request for the panel to consider taking action during a meeting of County Council’s Development Committee on Nov. 13 at the Aiken County Government Center.
He expressed concern that Horse Creek Valley has become “a dumping ground” for people who need assistance because they don’t have anywhere to live or have substance abuse problems.
Napier’s district includes Graniteville, Vaucluse and other locations in the Valley.
In Graniteville, Napier said, there was an “outcry in the community” in 2017 after residents learned about a plan by a nonprofit, Recovery Road Ministries, to establish a rehabilitation facility for adult men who are drug and/or alcohol addicts in a house on Canal Street.
A public meeting was held at Hickman Hall.
“There were probably 120 people there, and 90 of them were opposed,” Napier said. “And a majority of the people who were there who were in favor of it didn’t even live in the community.”
Since then, Napier said, some Canal Street area residents have “sold their homes and moved out because they don’t feel like they want to raise a small child in close proximity.”
In addition, Napier continued, “Some of the senior adults have said they felt unsafe. People feel like and can prove that it is going to depreciate their property values.”
During the meeting at Hickman Hall, Recovery Road’s executive director, Gary Farina, said residents of the facility would be supervised and wouldn’t be able to “come and go as they please.” They also would be required to participate in “a strict 12-step program with biblical principles attached to it,” Farina added.
In response to an email asking for an update on the Canal Street facility sent by the Aiken Standard to Recovery Road on Nov. 28, Farina wrote the organization was still in the process of renovating the house and he hoped the facility would be ready to open around February of next year.
Another concern in the Valley, Napier told County Council’s Development Committee, is “an influx of homeless people” in Gloverville because of several facilities there that provide services to them.
“They feed them during the day and then they’re going out and breaking into homes and stealing at night,” Napier said. “As a matter of fact, someone was talking to me and said they saw one of them pushing a baby carriage with a chainsaw and a weed eater in it heading down the street.”
Homeless people also are “hanging out” at Gloverville Park, Napier said.
Summing up his position on the issue, Napier said: “I think there is a need to try to assist and help people in all walks of life. But I also think that taxpayers, homeowners that are raising children and senior citizens who have lived somewhere all of their lives have rights also. They shouldn’t be in fear to go out at night or get to the point where they’ve got to take the cushions off the front porch and put them in the house.”
Napier also said “there should be something in place where there’s got to be a public hearing” before sites for facilities helping the homeless and addicts are finalized.
Suitable locations exist that “are not right in the midst of a community where homeowners are raising children,” Napier maintained.
Aiken County Attorney Jim Holly offered input during the Development Committee meeting, saying that regulating facilities serving the homeless and addicts would be “fairly complicated and complex.”
County Council’s Development Committee is scheduled to meet again Dec. 11.
Holly said he and Aiken County Planning and Development Director Joel Duke hoped to have an initial report ready by then after “reviewing and analyzing” the concerns discussed by Napier and “researching the law.”
When told about Napier’s comments, Lisa Tindal, who has been a driving force in the founding of the Aiken County Homeless Coalition, disagreed with some of his opinions during a telephone interview Nov. 28.
“I think it’s an inaccurate conclusion that bringing in a program to respond to the needs of the homeless in an area that includes homes and children would lessen the values of the homes or cause families’ safety to be compromised,” she said. “There are effective programs that are operated well, with safety precautions in place, and they can actually be a positive in a neighborhood.”
Tindal is the executive director of Mental Health America of Aiken County, which operates Nurture Home, an Aiken-based transitional shelter for homeless women and their children.
“We’ve had some of the ladies get a little confrontational,” Tindal said, “but I have never been afraid of anyone who has lived at Nurture Home.”
As County Council considers regulation, Tindal said, it would be “beneficial to the process” for people “who understand the perspective of the homeless” to be able to “contribute to the conversation.”
In a telephone interview Nov. 29, Bill Hamilton described a situation in Gloverville with the homeless that was similar to Napier’s account during the Development Committing meeting.
Hamilton owns a restaurant, the Midway Grill, in Gloverville.
“They (homeless individuals) are out here breaking into people’s houses and cars,” he said. “The drug activity has increased tremendously. The (Aiken County) Sheriff’s Office is doing all they can. They’re arresting them, as many as they can, but the problem is the judicial system. They turn around and turn them right back loose, so they’re right back out here. It’s gotten to the point that people are going to start taking the law into their own hands.”