HUNTINGTON — A one-year pilot program that will provide transportation for those recovering from substance use disorder is set to begin this October, officials said Tuesday.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) invested more than $215,000 into the program, with goals to improve transportation access for substance use recovery and treatment in the greater Huntington region, said Tim Thomas, federal co-chairman of ARC.
“ARC is seeking to find gaps or barriers that might cause an individual to relapse in their recovery and develop programs to fix those gaps,” Thomas said. “Based on data collected, access to reliable transportation is an existing gap in many communities, especially rural communities, causing those recovering from substance abuse to miss health and legal appointments and miss out on career development opportunities. Those affected by substance use disorder often do not own a vehicle or have an active driver’s license.”
Besides ARC, sponsors of this program include the Appalachian Transportation Institute (ATI), the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Office of Drug Control Policy and West Virginia Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention. Representatives of these organizations, as well as Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Michael Haney, director of PROACT, convened Tuesday at the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission to discuss updates to the program.
The Tri-State Transit Authority and Lyft, a transportation network company, are helping with the project. Volunteers are also encouraged to drive, and various churches and other organizations are donating vehicles to use in the project. Volunteers may also be able to drive vehicles donated by the Good News Mountaineer Garage in Charleston, which provides vehicles to those in need.
Thomas said while recovery is an important aspect, the ultimate goal of the project is workforce reentry, as it is an economic development initiative. Rides will not only be given for recovery and treatment, but also for probation meetings, mandatory court appearances, job interviews or transportation to a new job, he said.
Another main goal of the pilot program is to increase economic development in the region, said Williams.
“So, if we’re able to address this complex circumstance of lack of transportation, or difficulty of transportation to get a job, this immediately becomes replicable for all aspects of health care,” Williams said. “It becomes immediately replicable for anybody who is in workforce development, simply trying to overcome a disability or lack of opportunity to be able to step into a new opportunity.
"While we’re addressing the substance use disorder issue that we’re facing, the major thing that we’re addressing here is creating economic opportunity for those who live within the states of Appalachia. And thus, what we end up doing is that Appalachia starts showing the rest of the nation how we move forward economically rather than us being held onto the coattails of those elsewhere in the nation.”