FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) -Officials at Park Center are scrambling to find a new location after they withdrew plans to move into a vacant building on Fort Wayne’s northeast side. The announcement came at a special city council meeting about the opioid crisis, Tuesday night.
The Board of Zoning Appeals approved a special exception to allow the former Verizon building on Rupp Drive east of Coliseum Boulevard to be used for a drug treatment center. Dozens of people attended the BZA meeting to oppose the plan, citing safety concerns.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, which focused on the opioid epidemic in the community, Park Center President & CEO Paul Wilson announced that leaders decided to scrap the plan and will consider a different location for a drug treatment facility.
“The safety issue has been the lightning rod that has galvanized the group of people [against the plan] behind me,” said Wilson. “I think fear surrounding this project has been fueled by the implication that dangerous felons would be walking through neighborhoods. Regardless of where this project gets placed, that is not the case.”
Wilson said Park Center has already scouted out three new locations. He did not reveal the potential locations. However, Wilson said he is moving quickly because he would like to have the move done by March.
Wilson and other law enforcement officials said there is a misconception about who would be treated at the facility. The majority of patients would be sentenced to court ordered treatment for level six felonies. Level 6 is the least risky of all felony charges, Wilson explained.
“When people hear the issue of a felony they assume it’s somebody who’s going to do bodily harm to them,” he said. “That’s simply not true. The people we’re talking about are primarily level 6 felons and they primarily have drug charges or charges related to their drug addiction. Another level 6 felony is someone who doesn’t pay their child support.”
“Someone could stay in jail for level six felony for 6 to 9 months and not get any treatment,” said Captain Kevin Hunter, head of Fort Wayne Police Department’s Vice Narcotics Division. “The issue is, once they get out they are probably going to start using again. So this treatment facility will help them get off of drugs and get on the road to recovery.”
Andrea Schroeder lost her daughter Miriah to addiction last year. Schroeder said the stigma associated with addiction has to be changed.
“This can happen to anybody,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, where you come from, or how much money. It doesn’t discriminate.”
Wilson said a new facility that addresses drug addiction is in the best interest of everyone.
“Research time and time again suggests that when people get treatment, the community is a safer place and that’s what we want to happen. We all want the same thing. We want the safety of the community and we want to help rehabilitate people to get them back to productive lives,” said Wilson.