Pittsburgh Mayor Announces Funding, Plans for ‘Smart City’ Transportation Grant

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“This is where the world is going —the world isn’t going back,” says Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. “It isn’t going back to build more highways, it isn’t going back to widen highways. It’s going to find ways for people to get to places smarter, more efficiently, more effectively, more equitably, so that it helps everyone. That is the challenge.”

The United States Department of Transportation has placed Pittsburgh as one of seven finalists in this particular challenge, the “Smart City Challenge,” which will award one US city a total of $50 million in funding through 2018, with $40 million from USDOT, and an additional $10 million from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Philanthropy, to be used to address transportation challenges presented by the rapid growth of mid-sized cities like Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh will face off against Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco, California, cities chosen from the 78 submissions received by USDOT during the initial round of proposals. The seven finalists, announced at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival on March 12, will receive $100,000 in funding to refine their proposals before the May deadline, providing “detailed technical and budget application,” prior to the final selection, expected to be announced in June, 2016.

 

“Ideally, the winning city will view Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), connected vehicles and automated vehicles as the next logical step in its existing, robust transportation infrastructure,” the USDOT says in a description of the program. “It should also aim to have critical systems in vehicles and infrastructure that communicate with each other, allow for active citizen participation, and integrate new concepts that leverage the sharing economy.”

Additionally, the winning proposal will highlight public-private partnerships to address challenges similar to the one Pittsburgh shares with Carnegie Mellon University, which is working with the City on the challenge. The proposal is a continuation of an existing partnership which has already begun to provide high-tech traffic solutions in areas around the City like the SURTEC sensors in East Liberty and Shadyside which evaluate traffic buildups, turning signals green to facilitate the dispersal of traffic queues and lessening pollution from vehicle emissions.

The initial proposal, Peduto says, “basically breaks down into four areas. It’s the modes of transportation and the way we are going to be able to provide them; the technology, and how it can become greater; the ability to overlay transportation with new energy options; and an ‘open platform,’ so the information we create can be shared and used to not only change Pittsburgh, but to change the world.”

“If you look at where we want to get to, Vision Zero is a safety system for all of our transportation, for our streets, where there are no casualties, where people aren’t killed walking down our streets, riding a bike, driving a car,” Peduto says. “A reduction in the emissions of 50 percent by 2030; and corridors of opportunity, creating different areas of the City that have been part of Pittsburgh’s history, part of Pittsburgh’s basic way the City has been growing and developed for centuries, where there are more opportunities” than previously for economic growth.

Peduto says the infrastructure of Pittsburgh was based on a “field to market” economy, with roadways, rails and riverfront traffic patterns designed to move products like steel from the factory to its customers.

“Around the 1950s, with Mayor David Lawrence, we began to think about how to get people downtown, to become a corporate work center,” Peduto says. “In the 1970s, we were the third largest corporate center in the United States. It was New York, Chicago, then Pittsburgh. But that was all based around the automobile.”

Peduto says the building of roads, parking garages, tunnels and bridges for automotive use “saw the City hollow out, and what was left was decline and sprawl all around.”

Now that people are moving back to cities “all over the world,” Peduto says, “what are the options for a 21st Century City, and how can we utilize technology, and other factors, to help us get there?”

“When we look specifically at Pittsburgh, we are looking at an infrastructure that is at the same time antiquated, but the opportunity to create a new model for cities around the world,” Peduto says. “When we look at the North Shore, where a district energy plan is already in formation — you might have seen the power plant that is over by PNC Park, uses steam in order to heat buildings on the North Shore. We are working to create a co-generation of steam and gas in order to create heat and electricity and be able to connect the ‘T’ into a program of interconnectivity to Downtown.”

A steam-powered plant Downtown has the ability to create an entire energy system for all of Downtown, Peduto says, and “on top of that, we want to create a complete streets model for Downtown that allows all modes of transportation to be able to effectively get around without the friction that is there presently.”

“Creating new opportunities for technology, to be able to have new smart signalization to end gridlock and congestion, and move all modes of transportation around effectively” is a goal, Peduto says, as is to have “Downtown connect out along the Allegheny River through a ‘green boulevard plan’ all the way out to the Highland Park Bridge and eventually out to the Allegheny Valley.”

“Next, along the Monongahela, a new vision for Second Avenue and the ability to create solar power at a parking garage roof to be able to have electric vehicles charged with the sun, to have ‘Electric Avenue’ all the way down to Hazelwood, 178 acres of development that will be fueled by renewable energy, and where buildings will be built that will use less energy than they produce,” Peduto says. “The entire Mon Valley will be reconfigured as a renewable center of electricity and electronic vehicles.”

Peduto also cites the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system as part of the plan, “down through the heart of it, with stops in Uptown and SoHo to see the neighborhoods redeveloped, and an eco-innovation district that will help to be able to create the sustainability standards we are looking at.”

Peduto says the plan includes connecting Oakland and Hazelwood using “autonomous [driverless] electric vehicles with the ability to run people back and forth” between the universities and the technology centers along Second Avenue, with a public transit system to serve the people of Hazelwood to ‘new economy’ opportunities in Oakland and then connect over to the Busway, connecting Homewood and East Liberty to Lawrenceville, Hazelwood, Downtown — all of these systems being interconnected and all of them using sensor technology, which will allow vehicles to join ‘caravans,’ and the caravans will run through corridors where the signalization between the sensor that is already in the car today, and the sensors that will be in the public infrastructure, will create more efficient ways for people to get from one place to another.”

“And all of that being developed in Pittsburgh,” the Mayor says.

“It doesn’t happen through City government,” Peduto says.  “It happens through City government that is able to reach out and find partners, many partners, to put together a plan where everyone has a part, and all of the parts fit like pieces of a puzzle.”

“Portland, Austin, San Francisco, Kansas City, Denver, Columbus — when was the last time you heard Pittsburgh mentioned in the same category as those cities,” Peduto asks. “These are all the ‘Boom Cities’ with record growth. What makes Pittsburgh’s story different is that we haven’t seen growth in 50 years, but we are going to begin to see it, and as we plan and build for it, we will have a transportation network that is a part of a 21st Century City that will lead the world. And it’s because of our partners, which those other cities just don’t have.”

In addition to CMU, the City is partnering with Allegheny County, the University of Pittsburgh, the Port Authority of Allegheny County and various non-profit and community stakeholders to “build on existing work by the Traffic21 and Metro21 initiatives at CMU; the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center formed by the City, Allegheny County and the University of Pittsburgh and other initiatives.”

A memorandum of understanding with the United States Department of Energy has already set parts of the plan in place, Peduto says, also allowing their incorporation as a component of the Smart Cities application.

“We believe that the Smart City technologies outlined by the Mayor can make Pittsburgh not only one of the smartest cities in the country, but one of the smartest cities in the world,” says Raj Rajkumar, Director of CMU’s Metro21 and Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation Centers.

A vision of the Hillman Foundation’s Henry Hillman, says Rajkumar, was the basis for Traffic21, “back in 2009, basically to identify, develop and implement technologies to improve traffic conditions in Pittsburgh, where we actually are constrained by topography: Rivers, tunnels and hills, and where if you wanted to build new lanes, we don’t have the space to build them.”

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“Mr. Hillman’s philanthropic vision resulted in us actually forming the University Transportation Center, sponsored by USDOT, which subsequently became the National University Transportation Center on Safety, the only such center in the country,” Rajkumar says. “So, in Pittsburgh, thanks to civic leadership, thanks to philanthropic leadership, and my colleagues at Carnegie Mellon for their technology leadership, we are able to basically put forth a comprehensive plan to make Pittsburgh a Smart City.”

“We look forward to good news, of course, but whether or not we win the award, the march does not stop here,” Rajkumar says. “We will continue to make things happen with support from the City, the state, the Feds and various funds. We have had significant outreach from various cities and countries around the world asking what we are doing so well, and what they can learn from us, so this is only the first step of a long journey.”

“This is really pulling together all of the City’s talent,” Peduto says. “If we are selected, we will receive $40 million from the Department of Transportation to begin all of these projects; we will receive $10 million from Paul Allen’s Vulcan; and there will be an additional $1 million from Amazon as well as several million more in ‘in-kind’ services from other companies. That $50-$60 million, I consider ‘match funds.’ We will go out to corporations and others who want to be a part of each of these different developments, and challenge them to match these dollars we will be receiving. Through the course of a decade, we will see this City transforming.”

“We don’t have a price tag yet. We have received $100,000 to hire consultants to help us figure that out,” Peduto says. “We aren’t being limited in creating a $50 million plan. We are creating a vision for this City and where it needs to go for 21st Century smart transportation and then we are going to do it. Winning this will take us there much faster, but we are still going to do it.”

In addition to the city which is granted the $40 million funding, all 77 entrants in the original round will continue to receive support from USDOT to continue efforts to update their own infrastructure.

“But we want to win this, let me be very clear about that,” says the Mayor. “We have to be different than six other cities, we have to be able to provide something they are not.”

“Number one, we don’t just look at transportation, we look at transportation and energy. Number two, they want to see sustainability as a factor, and we have that baked right in,” Peduto says. “We are also creating what is called an ‘open platform,’ so that the information that is created for this will be able to be shared in cities around the country, which is a benefit to USDOT. And fourth, we have the technology because of the talent we have in the City to be the leaders.”

“There are other programs we want to see too, because we want to see this help all of Pittsburgh,” Peduto says. “We want to create an education program, following what Baltimore did with ‘Rec to Tech,’ turning our recreation centers into after-school technical training centers so that kids who don’t have an opportunity in this new economy will start at a very young age here, in our most needy communities first. We want to partner with the Energy Innovation Center and with Community College of Allegheny County to train the workers who are going to be putting these sensors all throughout the City, to have the first crack at the jobs which then will be part of a new economy as well.”

Peduto says the proposals he heard from all the other cities’ mayors were very similar, “but Pittsburgh has something different. When people looked at the list of finalists and saw ‘Pittsburgh,’ they said ‘Why?’ We are going to show them why, and we are not going to be known as the Smoky City, but the Smart City.”

By Nancy Hart

Nhart543@gmail.com

Twitter: @nhart543

 

 

Council Hears Public Testimony to Promote Community Benefits for Development

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“Contrary to some opinions, murder and social isolation do not come naturally to nor are inherent in one group of people,” says Rashad Byrdsong, President and Chief Executive Officer of Pittsburgh’s Community Empowerment Association. “Filled with disparities in education and lack of economic opportunities, paired with substance abuse and underemployment, violence springs from the hopelessness of people who have been marginalized, dehumanized an prevented from the rights of full citizenship.”

Byrdsong held a press conference on the steps of the City-County Building, Downtown on Tuesday morning prior to a public hearing before City Council asking that body to codify requirements to include community members, particularly those in low-income and African-American neighborhoods, in planning, constructing and participating in redevelopment of those neighborhoods.

Even before the development of the Bakery Square complex in East Liberty, Byrdsong and other community activists have expressed concern that new developments displace long-term residents without providing benefits in return for neighborhood sacrifices. Families who have lived for generations in the Hill District, the North Side, the South Side and those east end neighborhoods are being displaced, forced to leave the City for suburban areas.

Emotions were high in Council Chambers as witnesses before Council offered testimony about how “institutional policies and practices exclude black people from economic development opportunities,” according to Byrdsong.

The racial disparities in employment which lead to higher rates of poverty among the City’s black population are unacceptable, Byrdsong says, saying there is no equity without justice, the legal requirement that every person receive the same treatment.

“We must begin to look to racial equity tools that  will begin to decrease the disparity,” Byrdsong says. “We al carry bias, and acting on bias can be discriminatory and create negative outcomes. Today, we see racial bias manifested in institutional policies, practices and procedures.”

“We are requesting that City Council create an ordinance for the City on Community Benefits Agreements,” Byrdsong says. “CBAs are complex, multi-party contracts executed by several community-based organizations and one or more developers, including commitments to provide a range of community benefits related to a proposed project.”

Such agreements, Byrdsong says, promote inclusiveness by ensuring community concerns are heard and addressed, enhancing both accountability and trust through legally-binding means.

Participants also requested Community Impact Studies as required documentation before City agencies such as Planning or the Urban Redevelopment Authority approve any new developments.

“Community Impact Reports are tools to provide the public and elected officials with pertinent information about both positive and negative impacts of development projects prior to approval,” Byrdsong says. “Too often, community leaders find themselves excluded from the process and information about projects; developers are reluctant to share too much information; and local officials struggle with competing interests and demands.”

This lack of communication often results in projects which meet the needs of few in the neighborhood, at a high cost to those same neighbors and to other taxpayers City-wide.

Byrdsong says the ordinance has widespread support in neighborhoods around the City, not only in Homewood or East Liberty.

“City-wide, the black community has been working together to demand change. City-wide, we have supported efforts in demanding opportunities and inclusions,” says Byrdsong.

Zeva Amed of the North Side says she has heard many questions about projects in that area and what might have been going on.

“The idea of the Community Impact Report sounds good, because it will be a good way for community members to find out what the plan is for their neighborhood,” Amed says. “Government processes and any developments that happen in the City of Pittsburgh should benefit the residents who live in the City, and that is all of them. Residents should be given as much information as possible.”
Amed notes that the current administration has made attempts to ensure community involvement in development processes, but that many residents don’t fully understand how things work.

“I’ve noticed that education about how City Council and other government processes work is not something taught to the public in general, so none of us really know how things work and how it should be done,” she says. “If it’s about things that affect you, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

East Liberty resident Carmen Brown says the development in her community does not include the people in her community.

“They come in, buy up the land, and hold it for certain developers to come into our community,” Brown says. “We don’t have a say-so in anything that happens. We don’t have any protection. Who is protecting us? We need some protection, and this ordinance would help us. And I am talking about the ones who have been there, not those coming in from out of town.”

Jackie Smith of the Human Rights City Alliance says the proposal meets the definition of legislation for a “human rights city.”

“We believe that Pittsburgh is not about our buildings, or the businesses we attract, it’s about our people,” Smith says. “The essence of our city is being pushed out, and that is the most egregious violation of human rights. The City needs to take some thoughtful action to reverse those patterns. We need to make our residents a priority, and make sure everybody can thrive and be full members of our society.”

Ronelle Guy of Pittsburgh United says she has been coming to Council for nine years asking for legislation similar to that proposed Tuesday.

“This is not the first City Council has heard of this,” Guy says. “Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Government should be the equalizer. You know there is structural racism in this city.”

Yvonne Rainey of the North Side Fair Housing Coalition says she came to Pittsburgh from the South 30 years ago.

“These are our communities. We are vested in our communities, and we have to come to you because we elected you to speak for us,” Rainey says. “Are you representing us? I am asking each and every one of you who has been elected to represent us to make it happen.”

“Fifteen years ago, I had never even heard of the word ‘gentrification,’ yet for the past 15 years I have been living it,” says East End native Alethea Sims, President of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty. “I have seen all kinds of development come in that has not helped us.”

Brandon Rice of Homewood says the young people of the City are not afforded the opportunities given most other people.

“The people here who have jobs and are successful are from Virginia. They are from Chicago, Detroit,” Rice says. “I’d like to see more resources given to these communities, not just the East Side, not just Homewood. I was born on the North Side, and I see so many of the places I used to shop at closed, boarded up. I’d like to see that come back.”

Rice also says educating youth about the political process is imperative.

“If you don’t educate these young people, well, they are the ones who will be supposed to take care of you, and you don’t want ignorant folks being responsible,” he says.

Council Representative Theresa Kail-Smith says she finds the idea of the agreements interesting, but would like to know more about how they would work with respect to residents who might be outnumbered but have lived in communities for many years.

“We also have to be realistic about what we legally can do,” Kail-Smith says. “We are superseded oftentimes by state and federal law. But I want to make sure that the voices of people who have lived in a community for a long time are heard.”

“When you talk about access to information, that’s something we [on Council] have asked for,” Kail-Smith says. “Quite honestly, we don’t always receive that information. We got information about a 115-room hotel building, after the fact. I live in a community too, and I’d love to get the information as well.”

“I know there is a lot of frustration, but I hear what people are saying. I think we all want to see this happen.”

Council Representative Daniel Lavelle says Community Benefits agreements can be done, and can be beneficial based on his own experience working with the development of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site.

“In that agreement, we have mandated levels of people from the community to [work] on that site, we have mandated levels of minority and women’s participation in terms of job opportunities and business development,” Lavelle says. “We have mandates for affordable housing, we have mandates for a minimum of small, women-owned retail businesses from the community on the site. We have put together a reinvestment fund that will deploy approximately $20 million back into the community. So, what you are asking can be done. I support your call, your concerns, and your ‘ask.’”

“I also want to make you aware that some of what you are asking is actually being worked on now before Council,” Lavelle says. “Last year, myself and Councilman Burgess, with the support of all Council, passed Source of Income legislation so people can’t discriminate against people with Section 8 vouchers or other sources of income to get housing.”

“Currently before City Planning is an impact statement requiring developers to say what their development is going to do, and how it will affect affordable housing,” Lavelle says. “There are things currently being done. I co-chair the Affordable Housing Task Force for the City, which is in the process of having city-wide meetings.”

Affordable Housing Task Force meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, March 15 at the Knoxville Life Center; Wednesday, March 23 at the Letter Carriers’ Building on the North Side; Tuesday, March 29 at the Kingsley Association in Lincoln-Larimer; and Tuesday, April 5 at the Kaufmann Center in the Hill District. All meetings begin at 6 pm.

“I think it is very important for you to come out and keep sharing your stories,” says Council Representative Natalia Rudiak. “We live in one City, but we live in so many different Pittsburghs. It is important to tell the whole story of what this agenda is.”

“We are trying to figure this out. We were not prepared for this,” Rudiak says. “Fifty years ago, we never could have imagined that we would have developers coming in literally building hundreds of millions of dollars in developments. So we don’t have a magic bullet, but I think we can keep working together.”

“It’s always about the buildings, and we forget about how the ‘built environment’ affects the people,” Rudiak says. “I think the next Renaissance that needs to happen is a people renaissance.”

“I am in my ninth year on Council, and we have seen Councils which have served you well, and have not served you so well,” says Council President Bruce Kraus. “Much of the work we do, you don’t necessarily see, our frustrations that the goal is further away than we would like. I promise you that you have me as an ally, and I am here to tell you that this body is here as your friend and your ally, because we truly want to see a City for All. It is people who make a city, and the City is nothing without you.”

“I have been arguing that Pittsburgh should be a City for All, which means making Pittsburgh livable and affordable for everyone,” says Council Representative Ricky Burgess. “There are four components I have been trying to articulate, to push: One, affordable housing for everyone; two, living wage jobs for everyone; three, safe streets for everyone; and four, good schools for everyone. Those four things are the pillar of all the things we are trying to do together.”

“I am extremely concerned about displacement,” says Burgess. “I have seen the East End change. We need a process of protecting people who have lived in these communities all their lives. You should be able to stay in your community as long as you like, and we need a process to do that.”

“I have listened, and having a Community Benefit Agreement of some sort, we can look at and I will support,” Burgess says. “But the real thing we should be looking at is rebuilding our neighborhoods. There is no reason Homewood and Lincoln-Larimer and East Hills, my district, should not band together and figure out the process.”

“No one thing is going to make a difference. You can’t build five houses, you can’t build ten houses, you have to build hundreds of houses all at the same time,” Burgess says. “We demand large-scale development to rebuild our communities so that our communities look like Shadyside and Squirrel Hill and South Side Flats. That’s really the argument. It’s only a matter of funding.”

“We should say what our communities should look like, then receive the funding to rebuild our communities, participate in its building and then have places to live,” Burgess says. “We should be able to walk down Homewood Avenue to the drug store, to the grocery store, to the cleaners, in a safe, clean, decent environment. We deserve for all the communities to become mixed-income, stable, vibrant communities. It’s not going to happen in a day, or a week, or a year, but if we come together, we work together, we can make a significant difference.”

“We all do better when we all do better,” Rudiak says. “We need to do better by letting our residents stay in their homes, to age in place, and we are trying to figure that out. We need to focus on people.”

“It is time to address systematic institutional racism in the City of Pittsburgh,” Byrdsong says. “Community Impact Reports and Community Benefits Agreements will finally include the black community in the processes, and provide an avenue to changing the disparity rates.”

A “post-agenda” meeting will be held at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work, Room 217 in the Cathedral of Learning on March 31, 2016 at 6 pm, at which experts will discuss plans for crafting CBAs and CIRs for the City of Pittsburgh. The meeting will be open to the public.

By Nancy Hart

Nhart543@gmail.com

Twitter: @nhart543

Water problems in USA (Flint Michigan)

Starting from the middle of the 19th century, most of the major American cities started building centralized water supply systems. Until 1948, water supply and sanitation were responsibility of the local authorities, but starting from this year and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the federal government started sharing this responsibility with the local government. This change improved the situation with water supply all over America. However, even in the 21st century it is not unusual for some areas to experience water problems. One such problem that has grabbed the attention of the public in the recent period is the water problem in Flint, Michigan.

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Back in 1917, Flint got the first water treatment plant and residents had to wait for 35 years before the second plant was built. However, in 1967, the local authorities decided to use water from Detroit (this is the year when Flint got connected to Detroit with a water pipeline) and stop treating the water they had. In 2013, the authorities made a decision to stop using Detroit water and rely on a new source of water – treated water from Lake Huron. Due to some legal conflicts, in the beginning of 2014, Flint started using treating water from the Flint River instead of buying treated Lake Huron water from the city of Detroit. However, after only a few days of use of treated Flint River water, the residents noticed unusual color, smell and taste of this water. Tests conducted in August, 2014 showed presence of bacteria and specific byproducts that were proven to be harmful to humans. The authorities forced the city to take measures and according to the tastings conducted in February 2015, the water was safe. At the same time, the city of Detroit offered reconnection but for a very high fee – about 4 million dollars.

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In March, 2015, the city’s council decided to start purchasing water from Detroit again, but the emergency manager of this city appointed by the state of Michigan didn’t accept this recommendation saying that the water is perfectly safe. The conflicts didn’t stop here because 5 months later, three NGOs requested reconnection to Detroit water system due to presence of high amounts of lead and unusual orange color of water. This color came as a result of presence of chloride. Finally, in October 2015, the water supply system reconnected to Detroit’s system. Ever since then, the authorities are using extra orthophosphates in the water in order to remove the accumulation of phosphate scale that came from the processed Flint River water. Unfortunately, this is not a fast process and no one can tell when exactly the system will be cleared from the buildup that can result in certain health issues in specific categories of people. Meanwhile, the authorities are still considering building a system that will provide them direct access to Lake Huron water.

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Flint, Michigan is only one example of how dangerous changes in the water supply system can be and why they should be done after long research.  editor@urbanmediatoday.com

 

Best location for spring break

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Alabama Gulf Coast

Alabama Gulf Coast

When someone mentions spring break, the majority of people think about wild parties with joyful college girls and boys. However, we should not forget that spring break is an excellent time for family vacations. There are many families who decide to use this period of the year to go on road trips, outdoor camping or to visit some popular beaches. In case you are looking for the best location for family spring break, we will provide a short list of suitable destinations.

In case you are still making plans with your family about this trip, you are probably taking many things into consideration. There will be some family members who would like to be involved in boating and fishing. Others will like to play tennis or go swimming. Of course, some people prefer visiting zoos and parks or museums. If you are in a situation like this, we highly recommend the Alabama Gulf Coast because this is the area that has all these things and much more. There are many sandy beaches and not all of them crowded. You can also visit some attractions like Gulf Shores Zoo and Gulf State park.

Las Vegas

Some people may be surprised when they see this suggestion, but the fact is that Las Vegas is much more than a Sin City where gamblers spend days and nights trying to get rich. In the last decade, Las Vegas is a destination that is ideal for any type of family. Even though it is quite easy to spend a small fortune while you are there, with a good plan and affordable accommodation you can have a fun and affordable spring break vacation.

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Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona

If you are a fan of warm and pleasant weather in spring then you can’t go wrong if you choose Phoenix as your next family spring break destination. This is especially true for the people who come from the north. You won’t find the crowds that you can expect during spring break in some other destinations and the prices in this city are more than reasonable. In addition, baseball enthusiasts can witness training games too because Phoenix is the home of Arizona Diamondbacks.

Yellowstone National Park

Those looking for an unforgettable spring break experience for the whole family should put Yellowstone National Park on their list. Needless to say, this is one of the most exciting parks in America and in the world too. The best part is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to stay there. Take some of the tours offered there and enjoy your time.

Quebec City
Quebec City

Quebec City

If you are in the mood to visit a foreign country during Spring Break, you can visit Quebec City one of the most beautiful cities in Canada. At this time of the year many hotels and other types of accommodation are offering discounts. Don’t forget that you and your children can enjoy many different winter activities in the mountains around Quebec City. editor@urbanmediatoday.com

 

The Disadvantages of Reverse Mortgage

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by: Charles Kirkendall

A reverse mortgage can be an attractive option for many home-owning seniors that are having a hard time making ends meet. With a reverse mortgage, a senior homeowner will receive money for their home equity from a lender without having to make repayments for as long as they live in their home. So with the right reverse mortgage a senior homeowner can maintain their standard of living while retaining ownership of their home.

This of course, is the picture that all the reverse mortgage companies try to paint for prospective borrowers. Nonetheless, there are many differences that have to be understood between reverse mortgage’s and conventional loans. If these differences are not understood, they can cause financial problems for reverse mortgage borrowers.

Disadvantages of Reverse Mortgages.

The first disadvantage is the relative cost of a reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages tend to be very expensive when compared with a conventional mortgage. This is due to the rising-debt nature of reverse mortgages. For example, a typical reverse mortgage may provide a homeowner with a $300 per month payment with a yearly interest rate of 12 percent compounded monthly. Over the course of ten years, the homeowner will receive $36,000 in payments, but will owe almost $70,000-almost twice as much as received.

The second disadvantage is the complex and confusing contracts of reverse mortgages, that can have a tremendous impact on the overall cost of a reverse mortgage to the borrower. The complexity of the contracts often allow lenders and third parties involved in arranging reverse mortgages to not fully disclose the loan’s terms or fees. These numerous other front-end and/or back-end fees can also quickly drive up the cost of a reverse mortgage. These fees can include origination fees, points, mortgage insurance premiums, closing costs, servicing fees, shared equity and shared appreciation fees.

Out of all these fees, the shared equity and shared appreciation fees should be avoided, as they can quickly raise the cost of the mortgage without providing any benefit to the borrowers. As an example, a shared appreciation fee can give a lender an automatic 50% interest in the difference between the current value of the home when the loan is signed and the appreciated value of the home when the loan is terminated. What makes the fees unfair is the fees have no relation to the amount that is borrowed.

The third disadvantage is the reverse mortgage payments can affect eligibility for old age pensions, Medicaid, or supplemental Social Security income. Senior’s may not even realize this problem until after they already have their reverse mortgage, and only then do they find out that this can have the opposite affect on a seniors finances then what they were trying to accomplish in the first place by taking out the reverse mortgage.

Another disadvantage is the fact that reverse mortgages reduce the value of a senior’s assets and estate. This will affect the amount of inheritance received by the borrower’s heirs.

How to avoid these hazards

The best way for a senior to avoid these hazards is to be careful when choosing a lender, by obtaining bids from three separate lenders. They should take these contracts to a reverse mortgage counselor for evaluation. This will allow them to accurately evaluate the three contracts before deciding on best one for their situations.

About The Author

Charles Kirkendall writes articles on reverse mortages and other senior financial issues.

editor@urbanmediatoday.com

B-PEP RELAUNCH WEBSITE

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Political empowerment involves not only voting rights, but also issues of economic, personal and community security. For almost 30 years, Pittsburgh-based Black Political Empowerment Project has worked to provide the means to achieve this security to African-American citizens.

Through their office at Freedom Unlimited in the Hill District, B-PEP provides “hope, and a sense of empowerment,” as well as violence prevention and protection through their sister organization, The Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence (CAV), and economic empowerment via their Corporate Inclusion and Equity Roundtable (CEIR). In addition to encouraging voting and providing enlightenment about political issues, B-PEP has been actively involved in working toward resolving the issue of violence within the community and between communities and other outside parties, providing strategies for reducing gun violence, facilitating safe interaction with law enforcement and serving as a representative for African-American communities in matters of importance.

Monday morning, B-PEP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tim Stevens announced that, in preparation for the group’s May anniversary and as a cap to end this year’s Black History Month, “B-PEP is beginning a new piece of history, and a new way to serve our community” by unveiling two new websites: The revamped B-PEP website (b-pep.net/), and a second, separate “sister site” for the CAV (coalitionagainstviolence.net/).

The two web sites are separate, says Stevens, but “everything’s connected. The B-PEP website has civic engagement, Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable, a community calendar, jobs and training. The Coalition Against Violence is its own website. We are looking at a separate website for CEIR as well, but it will all link into each other.”

The sites were created through a collaboration with students in Robert Morris University’s Media Arts classes, under the direction of Professor Letrell Crittenden over a period of just eight weeks.

“From the moment we began to meet with Tim, the students not only helped to design the websites, they did photos for the websites, they did videos for the websites, they helped out with some of the social media aspects of the sites, and also did some of the planning and some of the new logo designs,” says Crittenden. “I said, ‘Here’s a project, here’s the goal, here’s who you are going to meet with. They met with everybody, had phone conversations, and produced this within a period of eight weeks. This is what can happen when you have collaboration between universities and non-profit organizations.”

Crittenden says the project was important to give students the opportunities to engage with diverse populations, but also, “to see what is happening in these communities. This is an example of what we call ‘engaged learning.’ I hope we continue to move forward.”

Both websites are linked to each other to provide the same one-stop location for information, but have added features as well through the students’ collaboration with community members and B-PEP staffers and volunteers. They are intended to be “mobile-friendly,” accessible via tablets, phones and hand-held devices, because, says Crittenden, “particularly for working-class African-Americans, the mobile device is how they access the internet. So we wanted to have something specifically friendly to mobile devices, and they tested everything to make sure that, on a tablet or on a phone, it would be something they could access easily.”

The previously bare-bones B-PEP site now features information about the history of voting rights, additional resources for voter empowerment and a downloadable version of the “You and the Police” brochure created to assist citizens in encounters with the police.

In addition to the newly added videos and photos created mainly by the RMU students, a new “Community Calendar” has also been added, which allows not only B-PEP staff and volunteers to add events, but also permits submissions from other members of the public. Stevens says it is his hope that this will help to not only provide a place to find events, but also to preclude important events from being scheduled simultaneously.

“With this Community Calendar, people can go on our website and see what’s happening in May, or in September, and hopefully say ‘Let’s not schedule our event on that date.’ It’s a community service,” Stevens says.

The website also works with new partners to offer a job trainings and internships tab, featuring job listings from organizations like Vibrant Pittsburgh, ImaginePittsburgh and other partners on one side of the page, and individual listings on the other. Both sides of the page provide information on training opportunities, while a feature on the individual side allows employers to post individual job or training availabilities.

“What we have done is create the opportunity for partnerships, which we expect to be ongoing partnerships, with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and their ImaginePittsburgh site, literally going into great detail about job opportunities in the region, and Vibrant Pittsburgh, who have been partner and one of our partial funders, to share the inviting opportunities which Pittsburgh is beginning to offer,” Stevens says.

Another important partner in the “Jobs, Training and Internship Opportunities” section is the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania.

Jason Fincke, the Executive Director of the Builders Guild, says they are trying to educate the public about opportunities in the construction trades.

“It has always been a challenge to find good applicants for the building trades: People who understand what the criteria is and what the work requires,” Fincke says. “I think by working with B-PEP and their new website it can help us reach that audience in the inner city that perhaps in the past hasn’t really truly understood what construction opportunities are out there.”

“Over the next five to ten years, we are looking for anywhere from 1000 to 1500 apprentices in the 17 building trade unions take in, which is a significant number,” says Fincke. “There are jobs in construction, not just in their own neighborhoods, but we want people to be able to work, for example, at the new petrochemical plant in Beaver County.”

The Builders Guild also will promote its initiative to introduce the trade unions to more men and women from urban areas by introducing them to the wide array of jobs available in construction. The three-times-yearly initiative includes 15-20 men and women, exposing them to those opportunities at the Energy Innovation Center

“It’s more than just carpentry and electricians and plumbers,” Fincke says. “There’s insulators, there’s steamfitters, there’s boilermakers, there’s bricklayers. Seventeen building trade unions all have their own apprenticeship schools, all are tuition-free, and all create family-sustaining career opportunities.”

“B-PEP has been for years, and also, when I was the NAACP President, advocating for the expansion of people of color and women into the trade unions,” Stevens says. “That’s why we came up with the new initiative announced the week before last. But the ongoing commitment to share with our website the trade union training opportunities…”

“We want people of color to go to college and graduate with PhDs,” Stevens says. “But we also want those who may not be college-oriented, but who obviously need training and need jobs and need income, to have that opportunity as well. That’s why the new partnership with the Builders Guild on our website is so important.”

Lois (Toni) McClendon, CAV Administrator and lead writer and editor for all B-PEP publications, announced that the group’s new website will soon feature a third, updated edition of the organization’s Strategies for Change: Building More Peaceful Communities. Two of the newest sections are already accessible on the website.

“We currently have 38 different sections, from Athletes to Youth, about what people can do to help end the violence in the communities as individuals, as agencies, as institutions,” McClendon says. “We have included two new sections in this document, which can be accessed on the website.”

One of the new sections includes information about violence against members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning/Queer, Asexual, Intersexual or Transgender community. Some of the focus areas include sexual and intimate partner violence, hate crimes, violence from law enforcement and the justice system, and bullying. Strategies are offered for community members, parents and other family members, schools, law enforcement and social service agencies, providing resources and definitions.

The second newly added piece concerns violence against women and girls. While the original documents offered support and resources for victims of domestic violence, the new sections take the information a step further, recognizing that gender-based violence is found outside of intimate family or partner relationships. From child sexual abuse to campus sexual assault to human trafficking, the document offers resources for victims and those around them.

“This document was a grass-roots effort, so it’s not an academic type document. It’s easily accessible to everyone,” McClendon says. “The new sections address the communities that are sort of on the bottom of the totem pole, but we want to make sure we do whatever we can to end the violence in those communities as well.”

A print version of the third edition will also remain available, with a new cover designed by the RMU students.

Mark Morial, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Urban League, has called Strategies for Change “one of the most comprehensive in the country,” Stevens says, “and we are adding to it. But it means nothing if no one partners with us to implement these sections. So this is an opportunity to expand the effectiveness of what we do as the Black Political Empowerment Project, as the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence, as the Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable.”

Although the new sites are considered a “final product,” Stevens says they will continue to update and add relevant information as time goes on, particularly with the help of B-PEP intern Keonna Gibson, a senior at Carlow University, who has worked closely with the RMU students on the redesigning process.

“She has promised to stay with us as we fine-tune this thing,” Stevens says, allowing Gibson the floor to offer a tour of the new sites, which she and McClendon have already spent six weeks refining, to those present.

B-PEP will continue their Facebook page, facebook.com/Black-Political-Empowerment-Project-B-PEP-402279479147/?fref=ts, and, McClendon says, will soon be on Twitter.

“It’s something new for us,” McClendon says of Twitter. “It still has to be set up. Some of the plans are to periodically tweet sections of the document, so that we can begin to have a conversation about ‘I can do this, my organization can do this,’ and you will click on it and it will take you to that point of the website.”

“That’s a coming attraction,” Stevens says. “As we said, it’s an exciting new moment.”

By Nancy Hart

Nhart543@gmail.com

Twitter@nhart543

 

 

“CAREGIVING: THE INSPIRATIONAL MANUAL” — AS THE NUMBER OF U.S. CAREGIVERS SKYROCKETS, EMPOWERING NEW BOOK SHARES 200 LIFE-CHANGING TIPS

Written from the experiences of Odell Glenn Jr., "Caregiving: The Inspirational Manual (200 Caregiver Tips with Healthy Lifestyle Benefits)" isn’t written by a medical professional or caregiving practitioner, but a maverick “everyman” who had to learn the hard way when he assumed the role of primary caregiver to his parents. In his new guide, Glenn helps caregivers and those soon-to-be caregivers understand exactly what their role is, how to care with true love and compassion and also keep themselves healthy in the process. It’s the first grassroots book of its kind, coming at a time when millions of Americans each year find themselves taking on a “job” they didn’t expect
Written from the experiences of Odell Glenn Jr., “Caregiving: The Inspirational Manual (200 Caregiver Tips with Healthy Lifestyle Benefits)” isn’t written by a medical professional or caregiving practitioner, but a maverick “everyman” who had to learn the hard way when he assumed the role of primary caregiver to his parents. In his new guide, Glenn helps caregivers and those soon-to-be caregivers understand exactly what their role is, how to care with true love and compassion and also keep themselves healthy in the process. It’s the first grassroots book of its kind, coming at a time when millions of Americans each year find themselves taking on a “job” they didn’t expect

Columbia, SC — As an educator and ordained minister, Odell Glenn Jr. has spent his entire life putting the welfare of others before his own. Still, nothing could have prepared him to join the ranks of the 15% of Americans who are the primary caregiver to a loved one. It was a sudden deep-end dive into new beginnings, unexpected struggle and a new rhythm of life that was unlike anything experienced before.

A few years down the line, Glenn is now able to care for his parents with skill and compassion, while also enjoying his own life and remaining vibrantly healthy. Glenn learned the hard way, amassing a wealth of information he is about to release as an uplifting new guide to fellow caregivers and those about to assume this new chapter in their life.

His new book, Caregiving: The Inspirational Manual (200 Caregiver Tips with Healthy Lifestyle Benefits), pays homage to the dozens of people who encouraged Glenn to fight through the tough early days of learning to be a caregiver. He owes them such a debt of gratitude that he now sees it as his journey to reach out to others.
Synopsis:
Caregiving is indeed a challenging undertaking, one that honors me each and every day as I serve as primary caregiver to my parents. The debt of love I owe is priceless. This book is intended to share in the wisdom that I have gained and inform other kind and gracious folk. It is primarily intended for those who are current caregivers as well as others who most likely will assume the role of primary caregivers in the future. It is also intended to shed some light for the general public, particularly those who are uncertain as to the roles they might play, and what daily caregiving entails. My intentions are that the book would serve as a general self-help manual that provides guidelines and inspirational talk to caregivers. It also has chapters devoted to healthy eating lifestyles (as well as the benefits of essential oils) that in my opinion -and that of the experts- contain hefty benefits for care recipients. Although the foundational attitudes and tasks of caregiving remain constant, people will surely have their own unique experiences. I have provided prayers for caregivers that I personally reflect upon.

“I embrace my role as a caregiver, treat it as a job ingrained into the core of my being and I cherish the privilege to now live for the welfare of my parents,” explains Glenn. “I’m not alone; 15% of Americans are primary caregivers and, with baby boomers aging and chronic illness numbers shooting through the roof, tens of millions of new caregivers will start their journeys each year. Rather than feel like they are alone, I want my book to be their guiding hand and their beacon of solace during those first few months and years.”

Continuing, “But aside from just preparing them to care for others, the book also dedicates much of its content to helping caregivers look out for their own physical and mental wellbeing. You often hear of caregivers destroying their own health in the process and, in some cases, left unable to care for others any longer. There is a fine line to draw between dedicating your time to your loved ones while also enjoying your own life and freedoms in the process. It’s a wonderful life that I wouldn’t change for the world!”

With the volume expected to be in high demand, interested readers are urged to secure their copies as soon as possible following publication.
How To Get the Book:
Caregiving: The Inspirational Manual (200 Caregiver Tips with Healthy Lifestyle Benefits) by Odell Glenn Jr. is available for purchase at his official website: www.ogcaregiving.com.
About the Author:
Author, caregiver, educator, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, ordained minister and researcher describe the everyday life of Odell Glenn Jr. Odell grew up in Brooklyn, New York and obtained his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Long Island, New York. He then went on to receive two master degrees in both manufacturing systems and electrical engineering in New Jersey. He then worked as an engineer and then later as an associate professor in the state of Connecticut. He has also lived and worked in the states of California and Oregon before relocating to South Carolina. He begins his mornings by offering bible teaching and prayer via a telephone network which has served many along the east coast. Scripture and motivational quotes are often posted via several social media venues. He is currently preparing to defend his doctoral dissertation in the department of chemical engineering. Alongside his research is a very personal interest in essential oils and health benefits. He sells them on his personal website shown below. He is a public health advocate for asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury related diseases. He has been known to attend local and national forums and seminars on these illnesses as well as participate in 5K runs and walks associated with these illnesses. He is currently the community outreach coordinator for the “South Carolina Diversity Program” at The University of South Carolina. This position involves setting up panel discussions for K-12 and undergraduates. The goal has been for doctoral students to serve as a liaison for students and become role models and advocates to help them better navigate educational opportunities and possibilities.

He has also served as president of the “Gamecocks Toastmasters Club”. He is active in his local community for which he serves as social media coordinator for a local nonprofit organization. At his church, he is the coordinator for activities associated with young adults (ages 18-59). He is both a Sunday school teacher to adults and a preacher to the congregation on some Sunday mornings. With all of this his primary focus for the past 9 years has been on caring for both his parents who are now in their 80’s. He believes that nothing he has learned or gained in life should be for self. The wisdom and experience that he has learned is intended to be shared to help, shape, inform or guide someone else along life’s tedious journey. His overall mission in life is to minister to the intellectual, social and spiritual needs of all people. In order for him to disseminate information, he plans to continue to write books and public speak throughout a plethora of different genres.

For more details, visit www.ogcaregiving.com

Homer Craig, Veteran and Retired Police Sergeant

Interview with Homer Craig

Homer Craig, Veteran and Retired Police Sergeant

Veteran and retired police sergeant Homer Craig (b.1939) reflects on family and community life in Hazelwood  based on interviews conducted by teens Shyheim Banks, Rashaud Foster and Israel Higgins in 2012.   More stories like this can be found atwww.neighborhoodvoices.org/crossingfences .

Community Advocate Malik Bankston

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Community advocate Malik Bankston (b.1962) reflects on his college experience and his desire to better his community based on interviews conducted by teens Calum Brown, JaVon Clark and Kenyon Walker in 2014. More stories like this can be found at www.neighborhoodvoices.org/crossingfences .

Pittsburgh to Serve as Pilot for Federal Wrap-Around Effort to Combat Opioid Addiction

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Representatives from both local and federal government joined together at UPMC Passavant Hospital Foundation Conference Center in Allison Park Tuesday to announce Pittsburgh’s selection as the first pilot city for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency’s new 360 Strategy. Other cities also piloting the effort are Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Saint Louis, Missouri; and West Memphis, Arkansas.

Described as “a comprehensive approach to tackle the cycle of violence and addiction generated by the link between drug cartels, violent gangs, and the rising problem of prescription opioid and heroin abuse in US cities,” the strategy seeks to combine efforts of law enforcement, drug manufacturers, physicians and pharmacists and local citizen organizations.


         United States Attorney David Hickton, who has been active in working to combat illegal drugs, talks about his relationship with members of Bridge to Hope (bridge2hope.org/)  a support group for those affected by addiction of loved ones.

“I thought the best way we could extend the conversation with Bridge to Hope is to tell them how hard we are working on this problem,” Hickton says.

Dominic Marks, a member of Bridge to Hope, says a federally-funded analysis shows more than 23 million addicts are either active, or recovering from addiction, in the US.

“To see the impact, you need to take that number and raise it by the number of family members who are then the collateral damage of substance abuse,” Marks says. “Families for too long have struggled not having education for this disease nor involvement in evaluation, treatment or the recovery process. That needs to change.”

“This epidemic of addiction we are currently facing is of epidemic proportions. We are fighting a disease that is so stigmatized by society that it drives users and their families underground,” Marks says. “When families are faced by a loved one’s addiction, they are traumatized by fear and the chaos it delivers. I know this first-hand, because my daughter has this disease, and it almost destroyed my family.”

Marks credits Bridge to Hope for helping his family through his daughter’s road to recovery, providing insight and hope while he and his wife were blinded by grief.

“We know there are some specifics that need to be addressed,” Marks says. “We need to stop the overprescribing of opioid medications; we need to increase the number of treatment facilities and available beds; we need to extend the length of treatment — recovery is not a 14- or 28-day stay at a rehab facility; we need to educate families, and all forms of media, so they are aware of what services and treatment are available if a loved one is facing this disease; and lastly, but most importantly, we need to work at all levels of society to remove the negative stigma associated with this disease.”

“I cannot emphasize enough: This is a disease,” Marks says. “It is not a character defect, it is not a flaw that can be willed away. It is an lifetime incurable brain disease, but it is treatable, and those who have been in long-term recovery have gone on to become productive members of society.”

Gary Tuggle, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division, which also includes Pittsburgh, says Bridge to Hope families are victims of illicit drug use.

“These folks are the folks who really carry the costs and consequences of drug us in this country,” Tuggle says. “I just wanted to say how much I admire their strength and courage.”

The Agent, who started his career in Baltimore, Maryland, says he has lived through three drug epidemics.

“One was post-Vietnam, when I was a child growing up in Baltimore, and it was a heroin epidemic, pretty bad, when folks came home from Vietnam addicted and it became generational,” Tuggle says. “The second was the crack epidemic of the 80s, hugely violent and devastating to our communities.”

“The heroin epidemic that you see today dwarfs both of those, and it dwarfs both because those epidemics didn’t have a ‘feeder system,’” Tuggle says. “The feeder system that we are seeing to the heroin epidemic today is the misuse of prescription opioids.”

Prescription opioids are a class of drugs meant to be used to relieve pain in the most severe cases, including hydrocodeine (Vicodin); oxycodones like OxyContin, or Percocet; morphine, codeine and other related drugs, according to the National Institutes on Health.

Tuggle says there is a national threat from the prescription opiate and heroin epidemic.

“This country has an insatiable appetite for drugs,” Tuggle says. “We represent less than five percent of the world’s population, yet we consume about 99 percent of all the hydrocodone produced in the world. In Pennsylvania alone, last year we had 2500 overdoses, more than 51 percent of them related to opiates.”

During its long-term search for solutions to the problem, Tuggle says, “we have been good about going after those biggest, baddest, most-violent drug-trafficking organizations out there. We haven’t been so good about engagement in the community at the level we should, but that is going to change.”

Tuggle says the 360 Strategy means that the DEA will continue to “go after those large-scale drug trafficking organizations. We are going to continue to be in the community doing enforcement efforts. The one thing that is going to change is that we are going to engage the community so that after those enforcement efforts are done, we have non-traditional partners step in behind us, to fill what we call ‘time and space.’ So, it will be that opportunity to get treatment, prevention, education, job training and other wrap-around services in the community so we can actually attack the demand.”

“But not with handcuffs,” Tuggle says. “We are not going to arrest our way out of this. We have to look at these partnerships in a non-traditional manner, and get away from the gun carrier philosophy.”

“We are missioned to go after the big, bad dealers,” Tuggle says. “But after we do that, there is going to be a void, where either more drug traffickers will step up, or more folks will become addicted, or more folks will come in and prop up the demand for heroin. We want to replace those folks with you: We want to get, with those wrap-around service providers, treatment, education, job-training, faith-based organizations who can step in and fill that void.”

Some partners with both local and national “reach” are already signed on, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, the DEA Educational Foundation, The Elks Club and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Tuggle says Bridge to Hope and organizations like it are examples of how to “embrace the 360 Strategy, and use them in the community as a ‘force multiplier’ for our efforts by getting them into the community to make folks aware of what we are doing.”

The third “pillar” of the 360 Strategy deals with the approximately 1.6 million registrants regulated by the DEA nationally.

“These are individuals and organizations licensed by DEA to dispense, manufacture and prescribe controlled substances,” Tuggle says. “In this 25-county area [surrounding Pittsburgh] alone, we have about 22 thousand registrants. So, if one percent of those prescribers or licensees ‘goes off the reservation,’ that is a crisis in your community that will put prescription opiates on the street and cause addiction.”

“We are going to be making industry aware, and be working with them to come up with better prescribing practices, but, for those rogue dispensers, prescribers, we are going to be extremely aggressive, and we are going to bring them to justice,” Tuggle says.

“Obviously, prescription drug abuse leading to heroin abuse has become a well- recognized problem, and we are still figuring out the best ways to treat it and to take care of it from the medical side,” says Dr. Michael Lynch, an Emergency Physician at UPMC. “We know that a large part of it starts with the prescribing habits, and that is another obstacle we have to tackle.”

“The DEA has data now that most heroin users’ first use of an opioid is a prescription opioid,” Lynch says. “Most of those opioids come from a doctor, or from a friend who has been prescribed the opioid by a doctor. Most of those doctors are well-meaning.”

“This will not happen from a law enforcement approach by itself. It will require all sectors of the community coming together,” says Carlton Hall, Deputy Director of Training and Technical Assistance for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, which represents more than 5000 anti-drug coalitions in all 50 states and the US Territories, and 20 other countries.

Hickton says County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has been generous in providing county resources and data to aid in efforts to combat the epidemic. Other county officials involved have been Dr. Karen Hacker of the Allegheny County Health Department, Marc Cherna and Erin Dalton from the Department of Health and Human Services, Mary Esther Van Shura, County Director of Community Relations, Medical Examiner Carl Williams.

“Whatever we have achieved so far has been the result of what Rich and [Pittsburgh Mayor] Bill Peduto have done,” Hickton says.

“One of the hallmarks of success we have had in may initiatives in this region is collaboration,” Fitzgerald says. “When we have problems, we solve them by working together, so I appreciate the fact that we have a US Attorney who has been chosen to lead this fight nationally. It bespeaks the leadership that US Attorney Hickton has shown over the last few years.”

“US Attorney Hickton was sounding the alarm about this years ago,” Fitzgerald says. “About how prescription drugs, the painkillers and the opioids, are the gateway into addiction. We have to make sure we stop that, and are here to work any way we can with all of our partners.”

“It is a team effort, and the City of Pittsburgh is on board,” Peduto says. “Our Controller Michael Lamb is here, and our Police Chief Cameron McLay.”

“Obviously we have looked at this as a law enforcement issue, and we have failed,” Peduto says. “There are people whose lives are being destroyed, and it’s not just those who are taking the drugs, it’s their families too. They are losing control of their lives, and we aren’t doing enough to help.”

Peduto says the City will also assign resources, not only from the Bureau of Police but also from the Law Department and the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment, who will reach out to faith-based organizations, community organizations, and others who deal with addiction issues.

“We will treat the individual as we tackle the crime,” says Peduto.

The DEA will assign additional personnel to the area temporarily to help with investigations, including two additional “diversion investigators,”  agents, analysts and investigators as needed.

A December conference will bring pharmacists to town to discuss deterrent efforts, like how to recognize fake prescriptions or take notice of those who “doctor shop” to obtain the same prescription from different doctors simultaneously.

“We need to stop sacrificing our loved ones to a disease that can be managed and treated,” Marks says. “We need compassion and empathy to take over for scorn and repugnance. We can, and we will, should be our motto going forward.”

“We are, right now, experiencing an epidemic that will not be solved in a short period of time, but we have to work together,” Tuggle says. “We’re here, we’re in the communities, and we are not going anywhere. We are going to be vigilant about how we do this, and guess what? We are open to conversations, and we are open to recommendations.”

By Nancy Hart

Nhart543@gmail.com

Twitter: @nhart543