Powell Duggan’s 38-year-old son died from a heroin overdose in 2015, something the mayor was reluctant to share until last week’s Warrenton Town Council vote denying the McShin Foundation’s request to operate a residential sobriety facility.
Duggan said he was moved by recovering addicts and others who spoke at the Jan. 9 public hearing prior to the vote—a vote that excluded the mayor because he can only break a tie. The vote to deny the special-use permit was unanimous.
“These are good people who struggle every day,” Duggan said. “In contrast, I was dismayed to hear statements by a few nearby business or property owners to the effect that we don’t want those people around our businesses, sitting on our benches, or reducing our property values.”
He said when he was growing up in a small town in Georgia decades ago, “I frequently heard similar remarks in a different context.”
“I am proud to say that I was the father of a talented, funny, easy-going, hard-working son who was one of ‘those people,’” the mayor said. “After years of daily pain, struggle and repeated attempts to get clean, my son Dan died of a heroin overdose less than three years ago.”
The mayor said he has been “reluctant to speak out about Dan because neither he nor I saw his life as being defined by his addiction.”
That reluctance disappeared last week when he saw the community rallying for a residential-treatment option for the “many strong, good people” improving their lives with the help of McShin and other treatment options.
“The opioid epidemic is alarming,” the mayor said. “It is present throughout Warrenton. We need to put prejudices aside and work together as a caring community to find solutions.”
Citing concerns about the McShin Foundation’s location in a downtown business district, the town council voted unanimously to deny a special-use permit to allow the nonprofit to operate what would have been the town’s first residential-treatment facility for people struggling with addiction.
The vote came after the council heard nearly two hours of testimony from both supporters and those who said they empathized with the foundation's goals but objected to its chosen location.
Some area businesspeople expressed concerns about trash and the possibility the facility could hurt nearby property values.
But the council also heard from several recovering addicts, grieving parents of young-adult children lost to overdoses and other local residents who spoke of the need for local substance-abuse services to combat the ongoing opioid-addiction crisis.
Council members called the testimony “heart-wrenching” and agreed that Warrenton and Fauquier County need more intensive services for people seeking help for substance abuse.
At the same time, councilmembers said the proposed facility, in the Rider building at 30 John Marshall St. and adjacent to an office complex, would not comply with the area’s “central business district” zoning rules, which prohibit residential uses on the first floor of commercial buildings.
The McShin Foundation had applied for a special-use permit to operate a 28-day, 14-bed residential-treatment program inside the building, which they have used since August for daytime appointments and counseling sessions.
The McShin Foundation confirmed it has permission to operate in the Rider building until July 31 and is working on an additional three-year lease with Fauquier County, according Chris Connell, the nonprofit's local director for community outreach.
The county is in the process of purchasing the building from its current owner and expects to eventually tear it down for more parking space.
Connell said she met with city and county officials on Jan. 11 regarding the Fauquier County Community Services building and the proposal to study adding a third floor to the rebuilt center to house a residential recovery program.
John Shinholser, president and co-founder of the McShin Foundation, said he's not keen on that idea, however, because such a combination is not considered optimal due to privacy issues and other concerns.
Shinholser said the residential program, for example, cannot protect the privacy of its residential clients if the first floor of the building is open to the general public, as a Community Services Board facility would be.
Either way, the CSB building, which officials have decided must be rebuilt to accommodate existing services, would not be open for any sort of residential program for years.
In the meantime, Connell and Shinholser said, they are hoping to rent a few local "sober houses" to provide those recovering from substance-abuse disorders the option of living in a sober setting with peer support. Connell said the nonprofit is looking at three-bedroom homes and townhomes in Warrenton for this purpose with the hope of serving at least six such clients as soon as possible.
In general, Shinholser said, the Warrenton Town Council's decision to deny the permit means his organization has "a lot of work to do" to educate the community about addiction-recovery services and to reduce the stigma attached to those who need it.
"We're open-minded. We see a lot progress, but we have a massive stigma-reduction education effort in front of us," he added. "I'm not one whose incredibly discouraged or bitter or angry. But we have a big job to do when it comes to educating the community."
REMEMBERING DAN DUGGAN
Daniel Lawson Duggan was a 1995 graduate of Fauquier High School and attended college at Northern Virginia Community College and New River Community College in Dublin.
His obituary said he was known for his “attention to detail and quality of work, whether it be supervising construction of new houses for a large company, or hands-on carpentry and painting work.”
It said that “with his smile, laugh, and loving acceptance of others, he was a good friend to many.”
Dan was one of 1,028 Virginians, and 16 Fauquier County residents, to die of a fatal drug overdose in 2015.