South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Austin Vaught
Contributing Writer 

Group discusses opioid epidemic, gerrymandering at November forum


November 28, 2017

Zone 3 community relations Officer Christine Luffey kicked off the November meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group with holiday advice on avoiding becoming a victim.

“Be vigilant. This is the holiday season.

“Thefts from vehicles tend to increase at this time of year,” she said.

She also reported she took calls at the Zone 3 station for the “Get Stuffed With Love” program up to the day before Thanksgiving. The annual program ensures that no city residents go without a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

There were no income or age requirements. Everyone in need was eligible to receive a free, warm meal delivered to their residence. Preparations were made for 4,000 meals.

Regarding the opioid epidemic, Officer Luffey said the police and EMS dispense Narcan, a prescription medication that immediately reverses the effects of a potentially fatal overdose.

“We are a phone call away, and here to help,” she said.

She also reported that at a recent block watch meeting in Carrick, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak introduced a program to reach out to survivors and get them help.

“We are in an opioid epidemic, and have to do our best,” Officer Luffey said.

To a question if a person can refuse to go to a hospital once they are “brought back,” Officer Luffey said yes.

“It’s hard to see them get up and walk away, but it’s all we can do,” she said.

“But it gives that person a chance,” she said of Narcan.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said he is a recovering addict and alcoholic who began drinking at age 12. In his case, his family tree has a long line of drug and alcohol addiction.

He said if we know a person’s family tree is riddled with addiction, we could save someone with early childhood intervention.

“I wish we could focus on why people are addicts and not on the drugs themselves.

“If we don’t get to the front of it, we’ll keep trying to arrest our way out of this,” he said.

Mr. Kraus is working with Children’s Hospital to understand how people are prone to the “disease of addiction.”

He also said he believes openness about one’s struggles with addiction can benefit others.

“If we’re open and honest and talk about a recovery, we could attract people to say ‘maybe I can have a recovery, too’,” he said.

Every addiction – whether sex or overeating or gambling or drugs – has a recovery program, he said.

Next, Debra Fyock of the non-partisan Grassroots Pittsburgh discussed ending gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral district lines to benefit one political party or person. The consequences for residents is lack of choice at the polls, lack of representation on issues that matter, and less incentive to participate in the democratic process.

She said no other nation allows such a conflict of interest as politicians draw lines that impact their own elections.

“Currently, there is no real process for drawing up districts,” she said.

Ms. Fyock asked for attendees’ support of state Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722 which would amend the state constitution to create an 11-member independent, impartial citizens redistricting commission for drawing districts.

“We want fair districting,” she said.

 Mr. Kraus next reported that Public Works’ 4th Division closed facility on Bausman St. in Knoxville became “uninhabitable” as the building was toxic and unhealthy, and no longer viable.

“One heavy snowfall, and it collapses,” he said a study determined.

Three attempts to relocate operations were unsuccessful, with the latest a potential move to the former St. Clair Village property. However, the urban farm took over the site, he said. The plan is to eventually build a new Division 4 building.

In the meantime, Division 3 will take over one-half of the Division 4 responsibilities, and Division 5 will take over the other half. He said he told those officials he wants the Division 4 services to be better than ever.

“You can hold me accountable,” he told attendees.

On another topic, Mr. Kraus said the city has been under state oversight since about 2005-06 through Act 47. Since then, “we have gotten our financial house in order,” he said.

Both he and Mayor Peduto agree safeguards must remain in place so as not to revert to “old habits,” he said.

So, the city is in an exciting place, he concluded, “with great energy everywhere.” For that reason, he has decided to run for a fourth term.

“We are in such a good place right now,” he said.

The final speaker was Sarah Ashley Baxendell, project manager, greenspace asset development for the Hilltop Alliance, who said three recent workdays at the urban farm drew 93 volunteers.

Not much will be occurring at the site over the winter, but it will start up again in the spring.

“We are steamrolling ahead,” she said. This winter she will be applying for grants, with a goal of building up structures next year, she said.

She concluded with news that meetings will be held to discuss what residents would like to see at 65-acre South Side Park, where a master plan process has begun. Everyone is invited.

The next meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group will be on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Ormsby Avenue Café.


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