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Huntington Mayor Addressing Poverty, Inequality At National Conference

Reported: May. 20, 2014 5:55 PM EDT
Updated: May. 20, 2014 6:11 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (Darrah Wilcox) -- Huntington mayor Steve Williams is serving as a panelist at a conference designed to regenerate former economies in former industrial cities like Pittsburgh, Toledo and Dayton.

The two-day conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts is for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Roundtable on Regenerating Legacy Cities.

Huntington has developed strategies like the Weed and Seed Initiative in the Fairfield area, and the River to Rail project is designed to revitalize the west Huntington area. “We've had neighborhoods that have been in decline for some time, but we're putting together strategies where people are taking ownership, of their neighborhoods. They're very active with what they're doing, and we're connecting business with neighborhoods, with government, and we're creating a synergy that is beginning to work," said Williams.

As Director of First Steps Wellness and Recovery Center, Terry Collison sees the effects of poverty, addiction and homelessness firsthand. "We’ve seen people who come through here who lost those jobs long ago and they lost their home, they lost their family, turned to drinking, turned to drugs, because of the hopelessness that come with not having a job sometime," she said.

Seeing people take pride in those so-called blighted areas is inspirational. "I think that's a great start to get people back to wanting to be a part of a community and making better choices," said Collison.

The center offers folks a place to stay during the day with phone and computer access and someone who can listen. "We're not counselors but we can listen and maybe make suggestions or point them in the right direction, and just tell them that they can do it. Tell them that they're doing a good job. if they've made a good decision for one day, when they haven't been making good decisions, you have to celebrate that because it's one step at a time."

Mayor Williams says they'll also focus on education and business and housing initiatives in the future, but it will take a mixture of tools to succeed. "You don't do it just with policing, you don't do it just with government grants. You have to have economic development as a component, you have to bring banks in. You have to have local businesses, you have to have neighborhoods. You have to have churches. It truly is the community coming together," he said.

He also said a strong sense of hope can be one of the most powerful tools to move forward. "The conditions that they're living in, the situation that they're living in, does not necessarily mean that they always have to be in that," he said.

He hopes he can bring back fresh ideas for revitalization not only in Huntington, but other parts of the state. "I think we're going to be able to demonstrate things that other cities in the state of West Virginia will be able to take hold of and will be able to lift the state up as a result of what we're doing."



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