Two Williamson residents appeared before the city council last week asking the body to close a drug rehabilitation facility located in the downtown area.
Wes Wilson and Tonya Webb in separate appeals said that Serenity Pointe, a controversial sober living facility, is “a black eye” to the city and should be closed.
Both Wilson and Webb hold significant positions in the Tug Valley Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau — Wilson is the group’s executive director and Webb serves as vice president. However, they both said their presence at the council meeting had nothing to do with the CVB.
“Our area has a drug problem, we’re in the middle of a place that used to be called ‘Pilliamson,’ but that has changed and so has the mentality. Things were getting better that is until Serenity Pointe came to exist,” Wilson said. “One thing that stuck out to me from the beginning was that majority of folks who supported this facility did not live in, nor work in, the city of Williamson, so its existence did not affect their lives in any way. If you asked people who live in Williamson their opinion of this place, it’s an overwhelmingly negative response.”
He said that he has had conversations with people from Serenity Pointe and the majority of them are from outside the local area and many are even from out of state. Wilson added that many residents have been removed from the program and have added to the city’s homeless population.
“If we can’t take care of our own people, why are folks being shipped in from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia seeking legitimate help?” Wilson asked. “What a sad situation that is, people having false hope that they’re going to come to Williamson and be fixed.
“I would challenge the City Council to immediately explore its options to execute the closure of Serenity Pointe for the sake of the residents, business owners, and folks who work in the city of Williamson,” he continued. “We have way too much momentum in our city to ignore this major problem.”
Webb, who is the chief probation officer for Mingo County, told the council she was not speaking on behalf of her position within the judicial system but as citizen, parent, volunteer and someone who works in the city.
“I live in Williamson. I pay taxes in Williamson. I raise my daughter in Williamson,” she said. “Serenity Pointe is a headache for me. I’m afraid to go to Seven-Eleven.”
Webb said she had been approached by other residents and businesspeople who share the same concerns regarding the facility.
Webb said concerns about Serenity Pointe are so great that the local court system will not use the facility. She continued stating that she supervised the probation of some non-local residents at the facility at the request of their respective probation officers and said clients have told her they would rather be in jail than to live in Serenity Pointe.
She said her concerns are not only for those living and working in Williamson but also for the security and safety of those who live inside the facility.
“They party all night. We have had police officers injured there,” Webb said. “There is no security – well, they had one that did what he could. But, he’s gone now and I don’t blame him.
“This facility needs to close,” she continued. “This is not the facility they claim to be.”
Mayor Charlie Hatfield and council members Randal Price, Sherri Hairston Brown and Ralphie Hall all expressed opinions of disapproval with the facility and their desires to see it closed as well.
Serenity Pointe has never had the backing of the city government. The administration which was in office when the project was first being proposed voted to oppose the center in February 2017.
Both Hatfield and Brown, who have been vocal opponents of the facility, said it was the Mingo County Commission which gave a letter of support for Serenity Pointe. That action followed just two weeks after the city council vote.
Serenity Pointe opened in April 2018 and is a 60-bed resident facility for people with addictions operated under a peer counseling model that houses both men and women on separate floors. It is located the former Sycamore Inn at the end of West Second Avenue. The project was conceived and developed by the Housing Authority of Mingo County to provide housing for people trying to recover from addictions and learning life skills to make themselves self-sufficient.
Police Chief Grady Dotson said the one of the more significant calls his department has had regarding Serenity Pointe was a December 2019 party being held at the facility. While there, he said one of his officers was assaulted and sustained a broken wrist during what he called “a two-on-one beating.”
Felix Reed pleaded guilty to charges of battery, battery on a government employee, obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct. Reed was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
James Harrison was charged with the same offenses as Reed and pleaded guilty to battery on a government employee. He was given a sentence of 12 months in jail that was suspended for one year. He was placed on unsupervised probation for one year or until the successful completion treatment at Faith, Hope and Love Christian Ministries whichever occurs first. The other charges against Harrison were dismissed.
“I think the whole community was misled with what is there,” Dotson told the council. “We get continuous calls from there. It is not being run correctly.”