City Drops Violations Against West Asheville Bookstore, Needle Exchange Program

Mar 2, 2019

The city of Asheville will drop violation notices against a West Asheville bookstore that hosts a weekly needle exhange program.  The decision comes after months of negotiations between the city, Firerstorm Books & Coffee, and the Steady Collective, which ran a weekly needle exchange at the bookstore on Haywood Road.  The decision to drop the violations came after The Steady Collective committed to having a medical professional on site during its event at the bookstore.

Last August, Asheville issued violation notices to the store, saying the weekly needle exchange violated city code.  Specifically, the city alleged the needle exchange qualified as a 'shelter', something the building that houses Firestorm is not zoned for.  Under Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance, a shelter is defined as ‘a nonprofit, charitable, or religious organization providing boarding and/or lodging and ancillary services on its premises to primarily indigent, needy, homeless, or transient persons.’  The violation notice for Firestorm was issued after the city said it received several neighborhood complaints.  Kairos West and 12 Baskets, which operate out of the same building, received similar violation notices but those were dropped after both came into compliance with city code.  Firestorm responded to the city by saying it's not a shelter but a place of business which hosts community events, and the weekly needle exchange is just one of those events.  The Steady Collective holds other needle exchanges in the area.  In September, Hillary Brown of The Steady Collective said the weekly event at Firestorm was more than just needle exchange.  She said they also distribute naxalone kits (used to treat those who have overdosed on opioids) and supplies that people take to others that can not get to West Asheville.  Brown added the need for The Steady Collective's work increased in West Asheville last year because several homeless camps had been broken up in the River Arts District.

In a press release Friday afternoon, the city said Steady Collective's commitment to having a medical professional on site means its needle exchange at Firestorm operates like a 'medical clinic' as opposed to a 'shelter', which is allowable for the West Asheville location under Asheville zoning.  The press release further stated that the city going forward will have an "inclusionary process to determine where syringe exchange programs should be located."