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St. Marks and United Westside Coalition

THIS WEEK COMMUNITY NEWS - WESTSIDE NEWS  (quoted from the April 11 edition)

When the United Westside Coalition was first organized in 2015, its members knew they had some lofty objectives ahead of them: developing strategies to spur economic development and community revitalization in an aging area of Columbus.

But beyond the traditional struggles of a fading neighborhood lay a more sinister foe: heroin.

"We need to deal with our core problem before we attract economic development, before community revitalization," the Rev. Nancy Day-Achauer said.

She is leading the coalition, which serves the Greater West Side.

"The reality is there's no way we can attract economic development as long we're known for having a rampant heroin problem and rampant crime problem," Day-Achauer said.

Recently, members of the group met with officials from the Ohio Attorney General's Office, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, the county Alcohol Drug and Mental Health board, and Columbus law enforcement personnel to discuss the issue.

"We know we're at the tip of the iceberg right now," said Day-Achauer, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church on Sullivant Avenue. "We've got a lot of work together."

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is expected to be the keynote speaker at a community meeting this fall. Day-Achauer said members of the coalition will spend the summer marketing the event and building organizational capacity.

She said public outreach, better education and working with local legislators and drug-treatment specialists could help stem the tide of addiction and crime.

Some experts say it's difficult to quantify which areas of Ohio suffer worse from the heroin epidemic.

"In traveling all over the state, Attorney General DeWine had found that, no matter where you live in Ohio, heroin is a problem in your community," said Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman in DeWine's office.

"There are, however, differing levels of awareness in different parts of the state, and awareness is the first step in combatting the problem."

The Columbus City Attorney's Office just last month filed civil action to shut down an apartment complex at 2958 Sullivant Ave. that was suspected of being a base of activity for drug dealers and prostitutes.

Similar action was taken last year to shut down an apartment complex at 398 S. Central Ave.

"Those apartment complexes were declared a public nuisance tied to drug trafficking and prostitution," said Kristen Kroflich, an attorney for the city who filed both cases. "And when you dig deeper, it really boils down to the ongoing addiction with the drug of choice, that being heroin."

The United Westside Coalition is composed of about 18 members representing civic associations, area commissions, township trustees and the general community.

Mike McKay, a member of the Westland Area Commission who's associated with the coalition, said the West Side is a viable area that needs some attention.

"There's a lot of opportunity here," McKay said. "The biggest opportunity at the moment -- I see it as an opportunity -- is the Westland Mall (which closed in 2012). It is a site that's currently a dead zone on the West Side of Columbus."

Those who want to keep up with coalition's activities can visit Facebook.com/unitedwestsidecoalition orstmarksumcoh.org.

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