There are now 3,500 white, wooden crosses displayed outside Charles Brooke’s home on Waterloo Street – one for every Virginian who died from a substance-use disorder in 2016.
The front-yard display, on loan from the McShin Foundation’s Richmond headquarters, was erected Monday afternoon to raise awareness of the toll addiction takes on residents not only in Warrenton, but across the state. Virginia saw 1,405 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016. The display depicts the number of deaths linked to overall substance abuse, Brooke said.
Brooke said he agreed to lend his yard to the effort after the Warrenton Town Council voted unanimously Jan. 9 to deny the foundation a special permit to open a residential-recovery center in the nearby “Rider building,” at 30 John Marshall Street, just around the corner from his home. Brooke's home is next to Warrenton Middle School.
Councilmembers said they could not approve the application because zoning rules do not allow the first floors of commercial buildings to be used as residential space.
The decision came less than a month after Fauquier County’s surprise announcement that it would purchase the building to eventually raze it for more parking for county offices located in the Town of Warrenton.
The McShin Foundation has conducted a peer-recovery support program for women incarcerated at the Fauquier County jail since April, and has offered classes and 12-step meetings inside the Rider building since Sept. 1.
Chris Connell, McShin’s Warrenton director for community outreach, said she’s been told the county will offer McShin a three-year lease to continue its daytime operation at the Rider building. The group is also hoping to rent at least one Warrenton home to provide a local sober-living opportunity for recovering addicts.
But in the meantime, both Brooke and Connell said they hope the display of crosses will drive home a message that people recovering from substance-use disorders are already part of the Warrenton community.
Brooke, who is in recovery for substance-use disorder, said he plans to leave it up “until they tell me I have to take it down.”
In addition to raising awareness about McShin’s services for fellow recovering addicts, both said they hope the display will motivate a political movement about the need to elect leaders who support the recovery community. Brooke likened the crosses to the recovery community's AIDS quilt.
“We’re going to activate the community around this sign,” Brooke said. “We’re going to find people who don’t vote and don’t care, and they’re going to start voting and start caring.”