War on opioids affects local community

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The opioid crisis has impacted communities across the nation, and Lansing is no exception. Walnut Neighborhood, located between Old Town and downtown Lansing, is currently struggling with an incoming drug rehabilitation facility proposed in their community.

With a lot of turn-of-the-century homes, this neighborhood was part of the original plat of designed homes for Lansing. This is also where the former Michigan School for the Blind campus is located. A house on that land, known as the Superintendent’s house, is where the proposed drug rehabilitation facility is going to be.

However, there is already an all-male drug rehabilitation facility, called Teen Challenge, within a two-minute walking distance of the proposed center. There is also a K-8 charter school, preschool and low-income housing all within the same block.

Residents of Walnut neighborhood are concerned about the effect the rehabilitation center will have on the community.

“When I found out I was totally mortified and I said, ‘No way. No way in the world. You have one around the corner,’” said Rina Risper, a Walnut neighborhood resident.

Risper has been very vocal about the issue, creating a petition for people against this situation, and has so far reached over 30 signatures. Her main concern is her fellow neighbors that live within the vicinity of the proposed drug rehabilitation facility. She said she’s personally had a lot of encounters with the men that lived at Teen Challenge.

“I find it very concerning for a lot of the single females that live in the area due to experiences that I’ve had just over the last five years,” said Risper. “I had someone come to the door and solicit for sexual favors. Overall, I’ve had about six strange occurrences with someone who formerly lived at Teen Challenge.”

This new facility will be housed by the Mid-Michigan Recovery Services (MMRS), a program that has been within Michigan since the 1950s. MMRS is an accredited program through the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and has helped members in the community with services like transitional men’s housing.

While MMRS has been satisfied with the current men’s housing location, the organization wanted room to expand. Executive Director Jessica Lamson said the interest in the Superintendent’s house began about a year ago.

“We had been talking for quite some time about how our men’s program, the facility it’s housed in, is sufficient, but for many reasons it’s not very home-like,” said Lamson. “So for a lot of reasons, we just decided that it would be better to grow into something that was more sufficient.”

Lamson said one of the MMRS board members is also a real estate agent that introduced the property to the organization.

“It is the perfect size, we loved the fact that it has that historic nature to it, as our own program has a historic nature to it,” said Lamson. “We began to explore the opportunity and, quite frankly, it was also being sold by the Land Bank, which made it affordable.”

The Ingham County Land Bank, the owner of the property currently, bought the land from the Lansing Housing Commission in 2008. Ingham County Treasurer and Land Bank Chairman Eric Schertzing said the Land Bank put in approximately $175,000 to $200,000 in the property because they believed in the area.

“A buyer came later in 2009 and purchased the property,” said Schertzing. “We ended up getting the property back in a bankruptcy in 2015.”

After the bankruptcy, finding a buyer for the property was no easy feat.

“We’ve got several hundred thousand dollars in that property, and we were trying to sell that building for two years,” said Schertzing. “I personally talked to newspaper publishers and folks that were involved in art galleries, retail shops, law firms, trade associations and we’ve done all sorts of things to try to sell it.”

When MMRS showed an interest in purchasing the property, an email was sent out to inform residents. Dale Schrader, a 20 year resident of Walnut neighborhood, said he received an email in September from Mid-Michigan Recovery Services.

“It didn’t really mention that it was the Superintendent’s house, it only gave the address,” Schrader said. “I didn’t put together in my mind what house it was, and at that time we really didn’t realize the scope of what was going on.”

Lamson said the difference between MMRS and Lansing Teen Challenge is the accreditation aspect.

“Having a program that serves people who are addicted is not necessarily the same thing as drug rehabilitation,” said Lamson. “We were aware that Teen Challenge was in the area, but it is not a certified or licensed drug treatment facility. It would be looking at a whole different type of program and saying we’re doing the same thing, and we’re not.”

A national crisis

Within recent years, the opioid epidemic in America has increased to record levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 64,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. This is compared to 41,000 people that died from breast cancer in 2017.

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail says the number of opioid cases in Ingham County has quadrupled in the last 10 years.

“In 2006 I had about 8 overdose cases and in 2016 I had 77,” said Vail. “We do have a problem here in Ingham County, as does the rest of the country.”

Vail and the Ingham County Health Department record demographics every year of the growing number of opioid deaths in the county. In 2017, 41 people died a drug-related death. Overall, a total of 48 deaths were recorded in the county, making opioid deaths over half of the reported deaths.

Reported Deaths

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Deaths by Opioid Type

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President Donald Trump is proposing a three pillar plan to reduce the amount of opioid deaths in the nation. According to NPR, Trump’s plan includes cutting back on overprescription of opioids, creating a harsher sentence for drug traffickers, and establish more treatment and recovery support services for those who have an addiction.

Residents’ concerns are heard by District 4 Commissioner and Ingham County Land Bank board member Bryan Crenshaw, who said he took the Walnut neighborhood residents’ concerns to heart.

“I’ve been very vocally against this organization going in to the house because of the neighborhood and what’s surrounding it,” said Crenshaw. “There’s an elementary school, there’s a child care facility that’s right next door, and I don’t think that’s the right place for an organization like this to be settled in this neighborhood.”

The K-8 charter school located nearby, Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy, has run into communication issues with both the Land Bank and MMRS. School Community Liaison Elvin Caldwell Jr. said he found out about MMRS moving in during a historic building preservation meeting. Caldwell said his concerns about the safety of his school seemed to go unnoticed by MMRS.

“When you’re in a unique situation in a unique environment, you need to have room for unique procedures and protocols,” said Caldwell. “That conversation kind of got dismissed from the top of MMRS’ organization, so that even furthered our concern.”

Lamson said there have been meetings with the community, but attendance was lacking.

“We’ve had two different meetings with community stakeholders, but not many community members showed up,” said Lamson. “We’re certainly still willing to meet with any community members who are concerned.”

The only thing that has not been settled as of now is the zoning permits of the property. MMRS plans to have a 14-bed facility, but the Superintendent’s house is currently zoned for 6 beds. Right now, all residents and Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy can do is wait to see what the Land Bank and MMRS will do about this issue.

“The initial problem was, and still is, that the neighborhood was not originally included in the conversation,” said Risper. “I do support drug rehab facilities, but there has to be a balance.”

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