Mayor Steve has been on a tear lately. Ripping down the field like a Chad Pennington led Marshall offense. One by one, the bandos (abandoned houses) are falling. The squatter and drug infested Flats on fourth is just mounds of rubble and dirt. Marshall University will have a baseball stadium on Fifth avenue replacing the old BASF abandoned factories. Hal Greer is being transformed into a beautiful entrance way into the city of Huntington. The Huntington Municipal Development Authority purchased ACF Industries setting up H-BIZ (Huntington Brownfields Innovation Zone). The legendary TV show "60 Minutes" has just aired a segment on how The Huntington Police Department is innovatively combating the drug epidemic. The future is so bright for Mayor Steve that he has to wear shades to keep the goal line in focus. It is smooth sailing to the end zone.
The goal line being the ever-elusive third term for a Huntington mayor. No man or woman has ever reached that hallowed territory. The path is wide open with recent accomplishments. Since the last election, the blitz had Mayor Steve scrambling in the backfield to try to avoid being sacked. Drugs, police and fire department layoffs, murders, and businesses closing had Mayor Steve ready to punt. Oh, how times have changed.
Now, it seems Steve is on the way down field for another victory. But, what is that lurking somewhere between Mayor Steve and the goal. Ah, it's a small but vicious and deceptively quick set of defensive backs called 'The Backpackers.' Mayor Steve does not see them as a threat and is ready to try to run past them. But, the Backpackers are there ready to keep Mayor Steve from being the first three-term mayor in Huntington. The Backpackers have been ripping and tearing and now they are focusing in on the mayor running gallantly to his third term.
Enough with the football analogy. No one wants to publicly bitch about the homeless. The homeless are usually a by product and end result of an economy gone bad. But, this time we are not talking about a group that has fallen on hard times. We are not talking about a family that was laid off and through no fault of their own lost their home. No one wants to complain about them because that could be any of us. Most of us are a paycheck or two from losing everything. There are agencies, churches, and good people out there trying to help them.
The 'backpackers' is a term given locally to a group of people who have come to Huntington by choice. They are not here chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that has suddenly formed over Huntington. They are not here to work on the construction of new buildings on Hal Greer or to be first in line for jobs that H-BIZ will create. They are here to be the recipients of the compassion of the caring people of Huntington. They are here to collect free needles. They are here to eat the free food that the compassionate people of Huntington are fixing and giving away at the food banks, churches, Huntington City mission, and other charitable well-meaning people are giving. They wonder the city all night long with backpacks on carrying all of their possessions and perhaps a few drugs in. They roam for days powered by ice or meth. They steal from cars, convenience stores, and porches. No one is safe except maybe the guy who wrote the Huntington viral Facebook post last week that he has lived in Huntington twenty years and has never been robbed, never heard a gun shot, never had an addict beg for money, yada , yada, and more yadda).
There are some glaring bright spots in Huntington's future, BUT who is going to come to Huntington to shop if their cars are broken into while they are shopping. Which businesses are going to locate in Huntington if the crime rate grows, property rates decrease, and the work force cannot provide enough applicants that can pass a drug test. It does not matter how many high priced hotels and exclusive restaurants we have if the streets are full of backpackers and people sleeping on sidewalks and benches.
Yes, Recovery is alive in Huntington. We have excellent citizens doing God's work literally pulling souls from the devil's hands, but we have to stop the influx of drug users coming in to the city. How do we stop that? Maybe we ccrack down on the real reason they are coming here. The easy availability of drugs. Increased raids? Harsher terms for drug dealers? An automatic public intoxication stay of 24 hours in a treatment center for anyone who overdoses in public?
Mayor Steve may even want to think about cutting loose of his prized sidekick, the free needle exchange. I have been a supporter of the exchange for a while. I think there are less needles on our streets and less cases of HIV even though we still have some of both. I think it was the right thing to do at the right time, but now the needs have changed. Now, we need to cut down the culture of 'free' in Huntington. The drug users can come and live for free but people from other cities and states that spend money here have to pay to work here (user fee). Sounds fair, huh?
Mayor Steve is sprinting toward the goal. Only the backpackers can stop him now. Mayor Steve may be underestimating the backpackers. He does not seem to understand that people are tired of having their property stolen, they are tired of their children seeing overdoses on the street. Mayor Steve has new jobs and businesses coming (maybe), old buildings going down and new buildings coming up. But, these nice new things may just be the emperor's new clothes in the eyes of The Backpackers.
Mayor Steve is at the twenty. The Backpackers are waiting at the ten. No timeouts. Will Mayor Steve get past The Backpackers?