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County: ‘Intent is to press on’ with syringe exchange site
Gateway to Hope could open in new location in matter of weeks, health officer says, as neighbors continue to press concerns
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Plans to move Gateway to Hope, Tippecanoe County’s syringe exchange program since 2017, to a former pediatrician’s office on Ferry Street are still on and could happen in a matter of weeks, despite continued pressure to pull the plug, county officials said Monday.
During a county commissioners meeting Monday morning, Dr. Dan Sakel, who has a dentist office across from the site at 23rd and Ferry streets, pressed commissioners for an update and any chance that they might back out of a lease for a portion of the building. He echoed sentiments voiced in recent weeks from some neighbors and an online petition with 2,400 signatures that contend the program would be too close to three grade schools.
“Is this a wise move?” Sakel asked the three-member board of commissioners.
Commissioners Tracy Brown, president of the board, said he sympathized with the concerns of neighbors and had been willing to field other options.
“I am of the mindset that it would be very difficult for us to find a place anywhere in the county, unless it was out in the middle of a beanfield somewhere, where everybody would be OK,” Brown said. “I know there are meetings going on with law enforcement and things of that nature to be sure we’ve taken everything into consideration. But our intent is to press on.”
The commissioners signed a lease in February to use 300-square-feet of the former doctor’s office for Gateway to Hope, which now has space at Lafayette Transitional House Center less than a mile away on Union Street.
One of eight programs of its kind in the state, Gateway to Hope provides what the CDC calls harm reduction, providing clean syringes to those addicted to opioids in hopes of limiting the spread of infectious diseases caused by shared needles. In addition to drug kits and syringes, Gateway to Hope participants receives hygiene kits and access to testing for hepatitis C, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Gateway to Hope also offers naloxone, used to counteract an overdose, and testing strips for deadly traces of fentanyl.
The county’s program will be open parts of three days a week in one of several groups with space in the offices, as the Recovery Café – a nonprofit organization looking to move its support groups, recovery classes, sober social events and other services – moves from the Bauer Community Center just south of downtown Lafayette.
Sakel told commissioners that he and neighbors had no issues with Recovery Café. He said he didn’t have issues with a syringe exchange, either. He said he questioned whether the two should be housed in the same spot. Sakel also asked whether the county health department had thought things through when coming within blocks of Murdock Elementary, Sunnyside Intermediate School and Lafayette Christian School.
Brown said that in two previous locations – at 629 N. Sixth St., when the building was still part of the health department, and then at LTHC near 12th and Union Streets – Gateway to Hope has dealt with similar questions and concerns.
“There’s probably no amount of information that we’re going to be able to give the folks that live right in that immediate area to give a sense of comfort with the program moving forward,” Brown said. “Other than to say, if you’re going to judge the program, judge the program on history.”
His point being: Once installed in a location, complaints didn’t follow.
Dr. Greg Loomis, the county’s health officer, said he and neighbors and other met privately last week to talk about the move. (Two weeks ago, Loomis faced neighbors during a commissioners meeting and apologized for not doing more to give them a heads up about the county’s plan.) Sakel said he was at that meeting.
Loomis and Sakel each said Monday that the two sides remained separated.
Loomis told commissioners he wasn’t sure when Recovery Café planned to move. But he said Gateway to Hope was going through necessary inspections this week and would be ready to move in a couple of weeks.
Loomis has advocated for the move for several reasons, including that Gateway to Hope has little private space at LTHC and that the corner of 23rd and Ferry not only puts it with the programs of Recovery Café but also of Valley Oaks Health’s mental health and addiction treatment across Ferry Street.
“I’m convinced people aren’t going to even notice it’s there,” Loomis said. “I remain convinced this is a good thing for the community.”
Sakel said he and neighbors weren’t persuaded.
“It seems like you’re migrating a problem to this neighborhood,” Sakel said.
PEREZ SENTENCED FOR 2022 WALMART PARKING LOT MURDER: Anthony Perez, who admitted to shooting and killing Casey Lewis in a Lafayette Walmart parking lot on Sept. 4, 2021, was sentenced Monday to 78 years for the murder. Perez, 29, of Indianapolis, won’t be eligible for parole for 58 years, according to the Tippecanoe County prosecutor. According to court documents accompanying his murder charge, Perez told Lafayette police that he and Lewis, 33, of Remington, were arguing about money issues. Perez told police that Lewis got into the back of the van while he went to the front passenger seat, as the argument continues. Perez told police he was concerned that the argument would draw attention and that someone would call the police. Perez told police that when Lewis would not drive them away from Walmart, he took a handgun from the glove compartment to intimidate her. Perez told police that he fired a shot inside the van “to show Lewis he was serious about wanting to leave.” When Lewis got out of the van, instead, Perez said he fired the gun again and that Lewis grabbed her back and screamed. He told police that he left the gun and fled. Perez, who had clipped his surveillance ankle bracelet from the Community Corrections program days before the murder, fled the state before being arrested in Little Rock, Arkansas. Here are a few accounts from Monday morning’s sentencing hearing, including Perez’s apologies to Lewis’ family and why Lewis’ family wasn’t buying it, via the J&C and from WLFI.
AND, FINALLY: How many people in Lafayette/West Lafayette figured out what to do with the first chords they banged out from Lafayette guitarist Jeff Anderson? Anderson, a songwriter who played the local circuit for years and was a top-flight guitar teacher, died earlier this month, at age 46. Here’s his obituary. Among the tributes was a post by Jay Gephart, director of bands at Purdue, tipping to a short, acoustic rendition of “The Purdue Hymn” that Anderson, a guitar instructor in the university’s Applied Music Studies program, played each spring for a Purdue staff memorial service. Here it is.
Thanks, again, to Food Finders Food Bank for its sponsorship help with today’s edition.
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