Sept 23 CIty Co Ashland

A man lounges on a bench in downtown Ashland on Thursday. The Ashland City Commission formed a committee to address homelessness in the city at Thursday’s meeting.

ASHLAND The Mayor of Ashland announced the formation of a task force to tackle homelessness and the opioid epidemic.

Mayor Matt Perkins said he wants community stakeholders to get together to “focus on the best practices of implementing ways to curb this problem.”

The proposal came after Tina Campbell-Ray, owner of the Governor’s Inn Bed and Breakfast on Bath Avenue, said there are problems in her part of town with unhoused folks.

“It’s become horrendous,” she said. “There’s druggies carrying backpacks, they’re attempting to break into houses and they’re stealing from porches. It’s getting scary out there — if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to turn into Huntington or a ghost town.”

Campbell-Ray said she used to live in Miami and she bought the house about eight years ago. She said the way things are going — “with all these druggies in the alleys” — it’s worse than than Florida.

“They come up to your porch and ring your doorbell and stand there,” she said. “They’re brave. They’re not even afraid of us.”

Campbell-Ray called for more patrols in the Central Park area and asked for anti-homeless architecture to be installed to be prevent sleeping on park benches. She also asked for empty police cars to be parked to deter activity in the neighborhood.

“Somebody is bringing these people in here, because I see them all with the same black backpack,” she said. “There’s also a little old man who sits in his truck at the park and I think he’s going to snatch a kid.”

Perkins said the task force, which begins effective immediately, will have to come up with a multi-prong solution to address the underlying problems causing homelessness.

“Severe mental illness, poverty and substance abuse is not a crime,” Perkins said. “We need to focus our best efforts and have conversations with the state and the feds to get the resources we need to address this.”

Perkins continued, “This problem wasn’t created overnight and it won’t be solved overnight.”

After the meeting, Perkins told The Daily Independent he hoped to see monies from the opioid settlements could be put to use toward funding solutions to the problem.

“We need to look at the best practices around the country and bring those practices here,” he said.

Some of the ideas Perkins mentioned is the deployment of social workers to get people help and case management in lieu of police answering the call.

“Police might be called to a situation where the person hasn’t done anything illegal, but they’re having a crisis,” Perkins said. “How are they going to get in touch with those services?”

Perkins said the task force will consist of law enforcement, mental health providers like Pathways, members of the community and the city government. He said it will meet once a month and he will keep the public abreast of new developments.

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