By Gary Nelson
A large group of residents from the Meridian Community attended Tuesday night's Cumberland County Commission meeting to voice concerns regarding the possible opening of a transitional living house for women who are recovering from drug addiction.
Cumberland County commissioners listened to the concerns during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.
"The residents of Meridian are not against (the facility). We see the need, but please consider the location...," Dustin Kunkel of Meridian said.
Kunkel said the residents would like county commissioners to consider the impact such a home would have both on the community and the recovering client.
Feb. 5, members of the Meridian community expressed their concerns at Meridian Baptist Church, where there is a vacant school building that was being considered for a location of the transitional living house.
Kunkel sited safety concerns for residents, especially children, and the safety of those clients who would be staying in the home. He said he feared men searching for a relationship could seek out the women staying in the home.
"There are many risks to consider," he said.
He also expressed concerns with declining property values in the community and response time from law enforcement agencies and emergency responders that are located in the city, which is several miles from the community.
"A risk for clients would be the distance from medical facilities if they are needed," Kunkel said.
Kunkel said he and the residents feel it would be better to locate a transitional living home, or halfway house, near town, "away from schools and churches" and either near, or within an industrial area.
Kunkle asked county commissioners to set a work session to discuss the matter and to lead them to contact legislators and help pass a law.
Later in the meeting, after the business that was on the meeting's agenda was concluded, Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, recognized the group and said she had several phone calls of concern.
"I'd like to recognize the people here from Meridian and suggest that maybe we could hold a work session and hear their concerns and maybe talk with the county attorney and see if there is anything we could do," Hyder said.
"Who are their commissioners? I'd like to hear a recommendation from the commissioners that represent them," 9th District Commissioner Carmin Lynch said.
Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey Jr. said Meridian was served by both the 3rd District and 6th District.
"I represent that area and a lot of these folks and I'd like to recommend we have a work session to see what we can do," 3rd District Commissioner Johnny Presley said.
The comment was met with a round of applause from the group.
No date was scheduled for the work session as of press time and no action was taken by the county commission.
Mike Garrett, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church and president of the Bridges of the Upper Cumberland board of directors, the group that was proposing the transitional living house, said the board had withdrawn its offer to lease the facility from the church.
"We don't need to lease or buy anywhere until we have better communicated what we are trying to do," said Garrett.
Garrett did not attend the county commission meeting.
He said the group is continuing to develop its mission statement and is looking at other possible sites that could serve the transitional housing facility.