MANCHESTER, NH – On Tuesday Mayor Joyce Craig and Fire Chief Dan Goonan came before the Aldermanic Special Committee on Alcohol, Other Drugs and Youth Services to provide an overview of the city’s revised response to those seeking help from addiction.
The meeting was called to address the changes in agency participation following the abrupt closure of Serenity Place in December, due to financial mismanagement. Serenity Place served as the hub for those who sought help through the city’s Safe Station.
Last week Craig announced a plan that brought Farnum Center and Granite Pathways into the equation as a way of providing clinical assessments for those seeking help and guiding them to the appropriate services. Going forward, Craig is pressing for more collaboration among city providers, and more educational outreach to cities and towns outside of Manchester, for regional access points to services, including a statewide telephone hotline (1-844-711-HELP).
Alderman Tim Baines asked if, with the recent procedural changes, there would be value in bringing the community together in a larger setting, like the Radisson, to talk about struggles, changes and current resources, as the city did in 2015 as the heroin epidemic came to light.
“I felt energy coming out of that meeting personally, and felt, as a regular guy living downtown, that there were many ideas that came to the forefront. I wonder if now is the time to bring people together for an update and discussion, maybe empower others in the community,” Baines said.
“That is an avenue we can go down,” Goonan said. “This whole transition has worked so quickly to where we are now… but yes, that was a great event.”
Baines noted that he has anecdotally gathered that people aren’t clear on what to do if they need help with addiction.
“I’ve challenged a lot of people in various settings, asking if I was addicted to opioids where would you bring me? People don’t seem to know the answer. I think there are efforts we can do to improve that,” Baines said.
Alderman Dan O’Neil several times during the meeting expressed frustration over the lack of measurable progress so far, despite the many city resources that have been channeled toward recovery and treatment services.
“One of the things that’s frustrated me, other than a program initiated by counselors and teachers to educate students, there has been little in the area of prevention and education,” O’Neil said.
He asked what kinds of initiatives for prevention there might be that the city can look into. Craig told him that there a lot of evidence-based programs available.
O’Neil said more in-depth tracking of outcomes and initiation of prevention programs “couldn’t come fast enough for me,” saying that the committee has been waiting for months for data that never materializes.
“We’ve been working around the clock on this, and we’re with you,” Craig said.
Alderman Bill Barry acknowledged O’Neil’s frustration.
“Unfortunately, we’re shouldering the burden and doing the best we can. We have to, unfortunately, rely on others because we’re taking people from throughout the state into the city – and we’re happy that we are able to do that, if we’re their only option that’s left on the table, we’re more than happy to assist them. But the state has to realize their money is something we hate to have to rely on. Then when you start cutting and it effects the city of Manchester, it puts us at risk,” Barry said.
O’Neil said he was heartened to have District Assistant Superintendent Amy Allen at the table.
“I don’t think we play to the strength of our schools and the prevention part of it. Having Amy here, I have full confidence in the program our teachers put together… but I’m worried we’re going to lose a whole (next) generation of kids,” O’Neil said.
After the meeting O’Neil said he feels like Manchester has been left holding the bag for what is clearly a statewide epidemic.
To his point, after the presentation by Craig and Goonan, Soucy talked about a cut from the state level on money for treatment services that will affect Continuum of Care providers. That 50 percent cut in funding would jeopardize the work of Jenny O’Higgins here in Manchester, Substance Use Disorder Continuum of Care Facilitator for Makin’ It Happen, an organization that is focused on drug use prevention.
“Seems an odd time to cut treatment dollars going to any state,” Soucy said.
Last week Craig acknowledged that about half of those who’ve sought help through Safe Station have come from outside city limits. Part of the Safe Station philosophy has been to provide help and direction to anyone who asks. More than 3,000 people have come through Safe Station since its inception in the spring of 2016, which in some ways contributed to the overwhelming demand for services through Serenity Place.
“I feel like we’re out here alone,” O’Neil said.