The city of Asheville, which is tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, was once a small mountain town. Over the past decade, however, Asheville has seen exponential growth and is now home to an estimated 92,000 individuals. Due to its beautiful surroundings and access to an abundance of nature and outdoor activities, Asheville is now an attractive tourist destination, drawing more than 10 million visitors per year. These days people come from all over to experience the beauty and adventure of the mountains, as well as to enjoy the many breweries and highly rated restaurants in the area.
As Asheville has grown and developed from a quiet town to an epicenter of activity, the cost of living has risen significantly over the years—though it is still 4% below the national average. Asheville’s cost of living is now higher than Charlotte and Raleigh, which are two cities in North Carolina with a much more metropolitan presence. Despite this higher cost of living, the average wages offered in Asheville are lower than the wages in both Raleigh and Charlotte, and significantly lower than the United States average. Currently, 13.8% of the population in Asheville lives below the poverty line.
Particularly in recent years and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, both addiction and homelessness are central topics of discussion as Asheville continues to grow. The city and community of Asheville has taken great strides to address the needs of the individuals in the area, and their efforts continue. For more information on addiction and homelessness in Asheville, as well as examples of initiatives the city has taken to address these issues, keep reading.
It is also important to emphasize that Asheville is home to premier addiction treatment programs, who are available 24/7 to help people struggling with drugs and alcohol to find the path of lasting sobriety and healthy, fulfilling lives.
Addiction In Asheville
The opioid epidemic that was declared by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 has impacted every part of the United States, including the state of North Carolina and the city and citizens of Asheville.
Buncombe County, which is the county in which Asheville is located, has a webpage dedicated to informing area residents of the statistics and ongoing efforts the county has taken to address this health epidemic. According to the website, 79 Buncombe County residents died from unintentional opioid overdoses in 2018. Moreover, the emergency department recorded 265 opioid overdose visits, as well as 606 community Naloxone reversals. According to the Western North Carolina Healthy Impact Community Health Survey conducted in 2018, nearly half (47.4%) of adults living in western North Carolina (WNC) report that their life has been negatively affected by substance abuse (by self or someone else).
Addiction Initiatives In Asheville
In response to the opioid epidemic, Buncombe County has partnered with a wide range of local community members and organizations, such as community advocates, faith communities, public organizations, and nonprofits, to develop action plans and initiatives to address the opioid epidemic locally in Asheville. In the past several years they have developed initiatives in prevention, harm reduction, public awareness, accountability, treatment, and wellness.
Many of the initiatives have now been operating for several years, such as “Drug Take Back” events, which are ongoing efforts in coordinating with the local sheriff’s office, police departments, and firefighting departments to make it easier for residents to safely dispose of unused medications. Education and awareness events such as the Student Opioid Summit focus on the prevention of substance use disorder and awareness involving schools, students, and parents.
The Syringe Services Program, which began in 2019, provides sterile injecting equipment, Naloxone, hygiene items, peer support services, and referrals to primary and mental health care. Continuing physician education has also been emphasized as an important part of opioid addiction prevention, and as such, over 1,000 medical providers have been trained via Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) on safer prescribing practices.
In their everyday lives, residents of Asheville are encouraged to take part in safely disposing of unused painkillers and medications, and discussing the opioid epidemic with friends and family to bring ongoing attention and awareness to the issue.
Homelessness In Asheville
Recent data comparing the number of homeless individuals in Asheville from 2020 to 2021 shows that in 2020, Asheville’s homeless population totaled 547. This includes 482 individuals in shelters and 65 unsheltered homeless individuals. In 2021, the total decreased to 527, with 411 sheltered. However, the number of unsheltered homeless individuals increased significantly in 2021, to 116 unsheltered.
This change is addressed in a statement provided by the city of Asheville, who wrote, “That change highlights the impact of COVID-19 on the homeless population and our community’s service system. Adhering to COVID protocols such as creating distance between beds, dedicating rooms as quarantine space for incoming clients, and requiring negative COVID tests for entry has resulted in decreased bed capacity throughout our community.”
Homelessness Initiatives In Asheville
In and around Asheville, there are many non-profit organizations and initiatives working to end homelessness. One such organization that has had a great impact on homelessness in the Asheville area is Homeward Bound of WNC. Homeward Bound WNC’s approach to ending homelessness is using the Housing First model.
The Housing First model aims to quickly provide people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing, and furthermore, to provide voluntary support and resources to help maintain individual wellbeing and housing stability. According to their website, Homeward Bound WNC has helped 2,236 individuals move out of homelessness, and 92% of those individuals did not return to homelessness at 12 months after.
In further efforts toward ending the cycle of homelessness, the city of Asheville has worked toward securing funding for more permanent housing options in the area. In June 2021, Asheville City Council voted unanimously to help fund the purchase of a Days Inn hotel in the city, to be converted to a permanent housing location that will hold 85 housing units for individuals currently experiencing homelessness.
There Is Help In Asheville, NC
Here at Asheville Recovery Center, we provide individuals with the resources and tools they need to identify the cause of addiction and establish new, healthy behaviors. We believe that anyone can become free from their addictions, even you! To learn more about addiction treatment and how we can help you get and stay sober, call Asheville Recovery Center today. We’re eager to answer any questions you may have.