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Faith in Action feeds, offers resources to those in need

Fayetteville Police Department expands community outreach with the program


On Thursday evening, in the middle of a three-mile stretch along Bragg Boulevard where four bodies were discovered in the past month, a glimmer of hope remained. 

In the Terry Sanford neighborhood in northern Fayetteville, the Fayetteville Police Department's Faith in Action program was at work. Sponsored by the department’s chaplain program, Faith in Action aims to combat the opioid epidemic by providing a safe and positive environment for people to get harm-reduction supplies and connect with addiction recovery and mental health organizations. 

Fayetteville Police Department cars lined the parking lot, but it resembled more of a communion than a crime scene; volunteers passed out hot dogs and hamburgers grilled on the scene and offered harm-reduction supplies to anyone in need. Children ran through the parking lot, and several volunteered to pass out food. Dozens of people dropped in during the two-hour event, including many families.   

The Police Department wants to take a proactive approach to reducing crime by building positive relationships with the community, Police Chief Kemberle Braden said at Thursday’s event. A number of unhoused individuals live in cars along the street, he said, including at least one family with children, and the event helps feed them while maintaining a positive environment for those seeking help. 

Braden says he lets the little things go during these evenings. 

“We have one car that if I wanted to, I could pull it over every time I saw it because there's enough violations on it,” he said. “But guess what? I give them a pass because they're coming up here and doing this. But if a cop is rolling down the road, they might get a ticket.” 

Faith in Action also aims to address the root causes of many crimes, which can lessen the toll of situational crimes on the police in the long run. 

“Three things I tried to address: mental illness, poverty and addiction,” Braden said. “If I can do away with those, 80% of my job would be gone. Look at what we're dealing with today.” 

Kathy Greggs, director and founder of Fayetteville PACT, a local nonprofit focusing on police accountability and social justice issues, said she feels the event showed that police are trying to help build positive relationships with people in the community.

“But what I'm saying is that we're able to see that he's not out here over-policing,” Greggs said, referring to Braden. “He's not criminalizing people. He's talking to people, trying to see what’s going on with them. He's offering them services like this. He's putting community people out here like us.” 

Volunteers from about 10 nonprofits manned tables set up in the parking lot offering support services during the event. One of them was Charlton Roberson, the Eastern Regional Coordinator of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and COO of Life Net Services, an integrated health care service with an emphasis on mental health care. 

Roberson helps those in need by providing syringe exchange, cleanup and Narcan distribution. His organizations work in partnership with local EMS, fire departments and law enforcement agencies to support individuals struggling with addiction. He has personally reversed more than 10 overdoses using Narcan. 

Gregory Perkins, a volunteer chaplain with the police department who oversees the Faith in Action program, describes it as a “street ministry” that aims to meet people on their level. Many of the volunteers with Faith in Action have had personal experiences of addiction and recovery themselves, including Roberson. He said his own experiences allow him to understand the nuances of connecting with people who face these challenges in a way that makes them feel safe and supported. 

"People are not really listening to the words you say,” Roberson said. “They're listening to how you say the words, or your paraverbal communication — your body language, if you're making eye contact or not, your posture, your tone, your volume, your cadence. Those things are really telling.” 

Frances Atiebrah, a peer support specialist with the Carolina Treatment Center’s opioid use disorder program in Fayetteville, said she enjoyed being able to assist people with Faith in Action. 

“It's very exciting to be out here, reaching (people) where they are,” Atiebrah said. “It’s a lot of fun out here. We get to feed a lot of people, give out our information. We're here to help the community — we want them to know that they can come and get assistance.”

Danielle and Telicia Johnson, sisters who have been staying with their combined four kids in a motel across the street, said Faith in Action has allowed them to eat cooked meals since their motel room doesn’t have a stove. They can barely afford to eat more than sandwiches, they said, since the motel charges $70 a night, and they will be forced to live on the streets if they can’t afford to keep paying. 

“Because the kids, they'd be waiting for you all to come,” Danielle Johnson said, referring to the volunteers and people at the event. “They keep up with you all. Because we were looking for you all last Thursday, they were like, ‘No, they're not going to be here this Thursday, they’ll be here next Thursday.’ So that’s good, I’m happy.” 

Contact Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com or 216-527-3608. 

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Fayetteville Police Department, Faith in Action, harm reduction, addiction recovery, mental health