GALLIPOLIS — “We know that we are not going to solve and they are not going to solve their problems in 30 to 90 days, so what we want to do is to give them as much support as possible once they leave here,” Serenity House Executive Director Melissa Kimmel told Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Thursday. “Not everybody agrees to the services the way that we want to provide them, but we’ve had a lot of success stories, and I’m proud of what we do.”
DeWine, during a three-day trip through southern Ohio, made a late-morning stop at the Serenity House, a 12-bed dual domestic violence and homeless shelter in Gallipolis, to discuss the shelter’s funding challenges, as well as the wider drug abuse problem in the area — an issue that is often the root cause of domestic violence concerns and homelessness.
“It’s three things: it’s alcohol, it’s other drugs or it’s mental health problems. That’s probably going to cover most of these domestic violence problems that are coming [in here] that are exacerbated by one of those three, sometimes multiple,” DeWine stated, while adding that a total of five people die every day in the state of Ohio from drug overdose.
“When we talk about the drug problem, it’s not just five people dying a day, that’s bad enough, but it’s all the other social problems that are connected with it — it’s the domestic violence, it’s the child abuse, it’s all the things that come [with it],” the attorney general said.
Serenity House, which serves the wider areas of Gallia, Jackson and Meigs counties, is funded through grants provided by the Department of Development Services, Ohio Criminal Justice Services, fees from marriage licenses and divorce fees, as well as funding provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office — a grant that this year totaled over $42,000. However, the Serenity House operates each year at a deficit and is in constant need of community support — a fact that is not unique in service agencies throughout the state, according to DeWine.
“They have many sources of funding and they are not unique in that they have a challenge in getting enough money, and it’s certainly not going down,” DeWine said. “This part of the state has had a long-term economic problem. Other parts of the state saw this huge dip; well, this has been a problem here, but at the same time, you have this rise of the drug use. It’s a perfect storm. Now, is one causing the other? I don’t know, but they are both coming together.
“What is different about this drug epidemic is it is really cutting across all economic boundaries,” he added. “It’s as likely to be in the suburbs of Columbus as it is to be in the inner city of Toledo, or as likely to be in Appalachia Ohio. I mean, it’s just everywhere — five people a day, gone.”
Kimmel concurred with this, stating that it is both the economic issues that face the people of the area, as well as the availability of drugs and alcohol, mixed with mental health issues that lead to many of the area’s domestic violence situations.
“We have major drug issues in our county, but we also have economic issues. We don’t have a lot of jobs that are available for people to make a living wage and we don’t have a lot of affordable housing. There are a lot of socioeconomic stressors,” Kimmel stated. “We also have a hyper-masculinity culture here, so, that contributes to our problems with domestic violence and sexual assault, but I would probably say at least half of our people probably experience some kind of drug or mental health issue — at least half.”
DeWine further discussed the prescription drug abuse epidemic, that has been widely combated by his office, as well as the newer trend of heroin use in the state.
“We’ve made significant inroads with the prescription abuse, but we still have a huge problem. Thirty-five doctors we have taken their licenses away since I became attorney general. We have shut down most of the pill mills in the state, but it still remains a problem,” he said while adding that agencies such at the Serenity House that not only provide a safe haven for individuals in need, but also provide educational tools and connections to other service organizations are a pivotal part of solving the wider problem.
“It has to be a holistic approach and it can’t just be law enforcement. We can’t arrest enough people. We’re arresting them, we have drug task forces, I run the state crime lab, we get evidence back very quickly to local police departments on these drug cases, but it has to be treatment and it has to be education,” Dewine said. “In many counties we don’t have enough treatment, and, in almost all counties, we don’t have enough education. The idea that we can go into schools at grade five and seven or something and think that’s going to take care of the drug problem is just crazy. So, these are the challenges we face.
“We’ve made progress, but there’s more to go and more to do,” he added.