The city of Williamsburg is trying to help evacuees from recent hurricanes.
Mayor Roddy Harrison told the city council during its monthly meeting Monday that he received a call Friday from two employees at the Kentucky Welcome Center, which was overrun by hurricane evacuees, asking if there was anything the city could do to help.
All the hotels in town agreed to give a percentage discount on rooms for people with a valid identification from the four most affected states, Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
The city agreed to provide two days of free camping at the Kentucky Splash Waterpark and Campground for those affected. The waterpark and Cumberland Regional Mall also agreed to let evacuees to park at their locations for free.
Harrison said some people just wanted to get off the road and rest.
The Williamsburg Fire Department also set up cots for evacuees.
Harrison said that he doesn’t have any kind of report about how many people utilized these offers, but that all the hotels in town sold out over the weekend.
Part of that may have been due to Old Fashioned Trading Days taking place and the city school’s alumni weekend, he added.
In particular, Harrison commended Welcome Center employees Kim Thomas and Amanda Lindsey for their efforts.
“Those ladies worked hard over the weekend,” he said.
Harrison also commended Candice Shelton and others for putting together care packages for evacuees staying at local hotels and the campground.
During Monday’s meeting, Harrison also gave an update on local building projects.
He noted the rooms are being framed now for the new Holiday Inn Express, which will have 60 – 65 rooms. Builders hope to have the project under roof by the end of October and open by next June.
Grading and drainage work is being finalized on a new strip mall that local developer John Davenport is building.
“Fingers crossed, part of it will be open in December,” Harrison said.
He also commended all the volunteers, city, and county workers, who helped with Old Fashioned Trading Days, including those that helped with the cleanup afterwards.
“Everybody that was there had a great time,” Harrison said.
In addition, the council received its quarterly update Monday from the Whitley County Health Department on the needle exchange program.
Stacy Damron, a registered nurse specializing in public health, told the council that the health department has been providing the needle exchange program for 35 weeks with 255 total participants making 825 visits.
During the months of June, July and August, the health department had 394 total participants in the program, including 89 new participants. It took in 8,975 used needles during that time frame and handed out 10,758 clean needles.
“The needles are decreasing. It’s still a lot of needles but we know that we are getting back what we give much better,” Whitley County Health Department Public Health Director Martha Steele noted.
Participants are never given more than 30 needles in one week even if they say they shoot up eight or more times daily.
Most participants seen through the program are injecting Suboxone, and others are abusing heroin, meth and pills, officials said.
Damron said that the health department encourages participants to know their HIV and Hepatitis status. While many schedule appointments, most do not return for testing.
Over half the participants tell health department workers that they know they are already Hepatitis C positive, Damron told the council.
Damron said that most of the participants have been there enough times that workers recognize many of them, including ones, who claim they are a first time participant so they don’t have to return any needles and can get 30 new ones.
“It’s amazing how quick they will leave and come back with some,” she noted. “They go find them real quick when they don’t have them.”
Steele said that one thing organizers have learned is not to ask participants whether they are a new, but rather to ask for their needle exchange ID card instead.
Harrison asked if Steele had checked with other surrounding cities, which have needle exchanges, about having the needle exchanges all on the same day and time in order to prevent people from going to more than one needle exchange.
Steele said she has discussed that issue with the Knox County Health Department, which has an exchange in Barbourville.
She noted that one hurdle many participants are facing is not being able to afford gas to get to the needle exchange on a weekly basis.
The goal of the needle exchange program is to reduce the transmission of disease and infections spread by injection drug use, reduce the amount of contaminated needles and syringes improperly discarded in the community, and to act as an access point for individuals to obtain connections for treatment use, healthcare and counseling.
Councilman Loren Connell asked if there are things the program could do to speed up getting participants to the point seeking treatment, which is the ultimate goal.
Damron said that the staff has offered to make phone calls about drug rehabilitation for participants, but so far no one has taken them up on that.
“We are working very hard to get these people to that point,” Steele added.