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VIDEO: Three contenders vie for 5th District City Council seat

Richmonders will decide Tuesday among three candidates for the 5th District City Council seat.

Capital News Service

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By Libby Dozier

Tuesday marks the last day for Richmonders to cast their vote in the upcoming election, including the 5th District City Council seat.

The candidates include incumbent Stephanie Lynch, who was elected in last year’s special election; Jer’Mykeal McCoy, a business development manager; and Mamie Taylor, a former School Board member. Taylor Maloney, VCU’s student body president, announced plans to run as a write-in candidate at the end of September. Nicholas Da Silva, a fourth candidate who also ran for the seat last year, dropped out of the race in September though he remains on the ballot.

Each candidate has priorities they wish to address should they win the election.

Lynch and McCoy want to improve city schools. Lynch said she’s pushing to modernize schools and have adequate pay for teachers. McCoy also wants to create a summer jobs program to partner young people with local businesses and provide them with increased opportunities.

McCoy said he intends to address Richmond’s high eviction numbers. The city had the second-highest eviction rates in the country in 2016, according to an analysis by Princeton University.

“This crisis is bigger than our city, but it’s disproportionately going to hurt our city,” McCoy said. “So we have to make sure we have the resources in place to help folks weather this economic storm.”

Lynch said years of systemic racism in zoning and education policies have contributed to Richmond’s nearly 25% poverty rate.

“It is up to us to try and fix the years’ worth of systemic and institutional oppression that was intentionally placed on certain community members,” Lynch said.

Lynch and McCoy also intend to prioritize affordable housing development in Richmond. Both have endorsed Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed $10 million commitment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Lynch co-patroned a resolution approved recently by council that calls on the mayor to find a dedicated source of funding for the fund.

Lynch and McCoy agreed with the need to decentralize where new affordable housing developments are placed.

“I think historically, we have seen that when you pack portions of our city with low income, black and brown communities,” McCoy said. “The economic disparities are exacerbated in terms of access to jobs, housing and transportation. And, so I think we have to right the wrongs of the past and get it right.”

Lynch and McCoy have different approaches to handling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lynch wants to create an emergency relief fund for citizens struggling with the financial challenges of the pandemic. She proposed earlier this year to use $5 million of surplus funds in the city budget to create such a relief fund. Richmond City Council ultimately voted to allocate the money elsewhere.

“When there’s extra food on the table, let everybody eat is how I feel and that $5 million belongs to the people,” Lynch said. “We could give it right back directly to people that are struggling the most. Instead, my colleagues chose to put it into a retirement fund to fund police pensions.”

McCoy said he would focus on increasing citizen and small business access to resources. McCoy said he would also ensure that the public is properly informed about Centers for Disease Control safety guidelines and encourage cooperation with surrounding counties.

“I think that was one of the major challenges early on is that the guidance was at a place Richmond would have it’s own set of guidelines, Henrico would have theirs, Chesterfield has theirs,” McCoy said. “But we only share like a border.”

When asked about police reform Lynch and McCoy had similar sentiments. Both support the creation of a civilian review board to oversee cases of police misconduct and the creation of additional emergency response services. Lynch supports an emergency response system staffed by qualified mental health professionals. City Council approved a resolution to create a plan for such a system that pairs police with mental health professionals to deescalate situations involving individuals facing a mental health crisis.

Lynch has raised a little more than $77,000 since January and McCoy raised almost $40,000 since late April, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Da Silva raised just under $3,000 this year and no totals were listed for Taylor.

Taylor and Maloney did not respond to requests for an interview.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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COVID-19 amplifies struggles with mental health, substance abuse – what Henrico County is doing about it

Since the pandemic started in mid-March, communities across the country have seen sharp increases in drug overdoses, suicides and requests for services. The trends have played out locally, with Henrico County already recording 41% more drug overdoses this year than in all of 2019.

RVAHub Staff

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The stresses and strains of the COVID-19 pandemic have been enough to test anyone’s well-being.

But the inescapable challenges – from social isolation and financial uncertainty to concerns about one’s health – can quickly overwhelm those struggling with substance use and mental health, said Leslie Stephen, a program manager with Henrico Area Mental Health & Developmental Services (MH/DS).

“There have just been compounding issues,” she said. “When there are so many issues to deal with, a person’s capacity to take on more is reduced.”

Since the pandemic started in mid-March, communities across the country have seen sharp increases in drug overdoses, suicides and requests for services. The trends have played out locally, with Henrico County already recording 41% more drug overdoses this year than in all of 2019.

“These numbers understate the full problem because many overdoses are not reported,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said in a recent letter to the Board of Supervisors on plans to open a detoxification and recovery center. “In recent years, there have been more deaths in Henrico from overdoses than from car accidents, homicides or suicides – and this trend will be true again in 2020.”

Similarly, the number of individuals prescreened for hospitalization because of mental health concerns was up 13% from July through September compared with the same period last year.

In addition, orders to place someone in emergency custody rose by 15%. One of every five individuals held on temporary detention orders was later admitted to state facilities, instead of treated locally. That’s higher than normal, in part because fewer beds are available due to the pandemic’s need for physical distancing.

MH/DS bolsters mental health, substance use services during COVID-19

MH/DS, which serves Henrico, New Kent and Charles City counties, has been working to ensure its services remain available and accessible during the pandemic while the county also develops an enhanced treatment model for substance use.

Staff have been conducting appointments mainly by phone or video, although in-person meetings are available if necessary. For more information, go to henrico.us/mhds or bouncebackhc.com. To access services, call (804) 727-8515.

The challenges from COVID-19 have been particularly acute for those who rely on regular, face-to-face support from clinicians and peers. Now, many of those sessions are held virtually.

“You think about folks in recovery, it really is that interaction that makes a difference,” MH/DS Executive Director Laura Totty said. “It’s that daily support that they get. The isolation necessitated by COVID-19 has been a real challenge.”

For many, the pressures and strains will only intensify as the state has imposed tighter measures following a surge in coronavirus cases ahead of the holiday season, which is often a difficult time for those with mental health and substance use challenges.

“I worry that many people may struggle when they’re unable to engage in activities that have given them comfort and support in the past,” Stephen said.

William Pye, a peer specialist with MH/DS, leads a
virtual REVIVE! training session on the administration
of Narcan, a drug that can temporarily reverse the
toxic effects of opioids and save the life of someone
who has overdosed.

In September, the agency also began offering rapid access to medication-assisted treatment for individuals addicted to opioids. After their same-day access assessment, clients are connected with a prescriber for treatment with Suboxone, which curbs symptoms of withdrawal during detoxification.

MH/DS also is offering nine virtual trainings per week on REVIVE!, a free program on how to administer Narcan to save someone after an opioid overdose. Participants receive the medication by mail. To sign up, call (804) 727-8515.

To enhance its mental health services, MH/DS has partnered with the National Counseling Group to provide mobile support to individuals in crisis and avoid hospitalizations whenever possible.

Henrico advances new strategies to help those in recovery

Apart from its work in the pandemic, Henrico continues to look for new and better ways to help those struggling with substance use.

The county recently established a program to cover two weeks of housing costs for qualified individuals when they are admitted to a certified recovery home. So far, 13 recovery residences have applied for the program, which is known as CHIRP or Community-based Housing for Individuals in the Recovery Process.

“This gives the individual a chance to live in a safe, sober environment while they start to work on their recovery,” Totty said.

In addition, Henrico is advancing its plans to build a 24-hour detoxification and recovery center that would provide voluntary, medically supervised recovery services for adults.

The estimated 17,000-square-foot facility is planned on Nine Mile Road, near MH/DS’ East Center, and would have initially 12 to 16 beds. It would be licensed by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and managed by MH/DS with support from public and private partners.

The center was recommended by the Recovery Roundtable, a county work group that spent eight months looking at ways to reduce overdoses and strengthen recovery resources in the community.

“The Recovery Roundtable concluded the lack of access to detoxification is a significant gap and a barrier to recovery,” Vithoulkas said in his recent letter to the Board of Supervisors. “In fact, our jail has become the default provider of public detox in the County, having performed nearly 2,000 detoxes last year.”

Henrico has issued a request for proposals for consulting services as part of its planning for the detoxification and recovery facility. Funding for design and construction are expected to be considered as part of the county’s fiscal 2021-22 budget.

With the pandemic causing so much disruption, Stephen said it has been inspiring to see MH/DS staff confront each challenge and find innovative ways to provide the services the community desperately needs.

“It’s also amazing to see our clients so committed to working on their recovery,” she said. “Even with all that COVID-19 has thrown at them, they are determined to clear the hurdles that are in their way.”

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Henrico County to begin 2020-21 leaf collection efforts week of November 9th

Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

Free collection of bagged leaves is scheduled through Feb. 13. Crews will work week to week in five zones; each zone will receive two pickups over the course of the program. Collection is provided automatically for residents living in designated zones. Residents living outside those areas can order free pickup of bagged leaves by calling (804) 727-8770.

Residents are encouraged to place their bags at the curb or road’s edge on the Sunday of the assigned pickup week; crews will begin collection at 7 a.m. Monday. Bags should be free of trash and debris and must be accessible from the street as crews are not authorized to enter private property.

Henrico also will offer vacuum leaf collection from Nov. 9 through Dec. 30 and again from Feb. 22 through March 31. Residents can order the $30 service by calling (804) 501-4275. Leaves should be placed at the curb or road’s edge and be free of trash, sticks and other debris.

Whether using the bagged pickup or vacuum service, residents are encouraged to avoid placing bags or loose leaves in traffic lanes, parking spaces, storm drains or ditches. In addition to creating a potential traffic hazard, misplaced leaves can block drainage and contribute to stormwater pollution.

Henrico’s public-use areas, located at 2075 Charles City Road and 10600 Fords Country Lane, offer residents another leaf-disposal option. Bagged leaves will be accepted at no cost from Nov. 9 through Feb. 13. Loose leaves and other yard debris are accepted year-round at no charge. The public-use areas are open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. except for certain holidays.

Additional information is available from the Department of Public Utilities.

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Mayor Stoney claims victory, Councilwoman Gray concedes in Richmond mayoral race as unofficial results show widening lead

Stoney currently leads the popular vote by about 32,000 ballots with 38% of the vote, winning Districts 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Results still need to be certified.

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Incumbent mayor Levar Stoney claimed victory in his bid for reelection Wednesday during a news conference. With just over 100,000 ballots counted, unofficial results show Stoney taking six of nine council districts – more than the five needed to secure a win and avoid a runoff with the second runner up. Right now, Councilwoman Kimberly Gray and Alexsis Rodgers are neck and neck for second place with approximately 26% of the vote each.

Stoney currently leads the popular vote by about 32,000 ballots with 38% of the vote, winning Districts 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Results may not be certified until early next week, according to the city registrar.

Stoney declared victory in a tweet thanking supporters on Wednesday, while Gray gave a concession-type statement via test message to VPM reporter Roberto Roldan. Rodgers, meanwhile, refused to concede, citing thousands of ballots that still need to be counted.

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