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Addressing drug use, homelessness in the River Valley

The town of Mexico is holding a meeting on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Mountain Valley Middle School regarding homelessness and substance use in the area.

MEXICO, Maine — Seth Fournier of Hartford is in a very different place now than he was in 2022. He spends his days working as a recovery coach with the Larry Labonte Recovery Center in Rumford, handing out necessities to those battling substance use disorder and trying to encourage them to get help. It's a struggle he knows personally.

"I found meth, and I thought was a solve-all, cure-everything," Fournier said, later adding, "It worked until it didn’t, and then life started to go downhill pretty fast at that point."

Fournier said with the help of supportive family and friends, he kicked his habit a little more than a year ago. He decided he wanted to use his experience to help others in a similar situation, going as far as starting a YouTube segment talking about his journey. 

As someone who grew up in Rumford, Fournier said the situation regarding drug use and homelessness there has gotten much worse. 

"I’ve seen it take a lot of people’s lives. It has taken a lot of people’s families," Fournier said about addiction.

Roy Hodsdon, chief of the Mexico Police Department, says he also thinks there's a rising problem in the area, although he has seen it from a different perspective. Hodsdon has been working for the department since 1997 and took over as chief in 2014. He says the demand for their help has been unprecedented.

"Every year’s getting worse, but this has been by far our busiest year we’ve had," Hodsdon said.

Hodsdon said in a typical year, his department would get an average of 1,300 to 1,400 calls per year with about 70 arrests. He said so far in 2023, they have had 2,540 calls and 171 arrests — and many are related to drugs. 

"Two years ago, I was assaulted by someone on meth. I got a concussion out of the deal. I was by myself. That took its toll on me," Hodsdon said.

Hodsdon says the job has taken a toll on his crew, too. Recently, one of the five officers on the squad quit "[He had] just had enough," Hodson put it, leaving the total number of officers responding to a growing number of calls at just four. 

“We’re not set up to handle the mental health crisis, the drug addiction issues we’re facing, the homeless issues we’re facing," Hodsdon said.

On Friday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., the town of Mexico is holding a public meeting about these issues. One of the organizers, Mexico selectman Kevin Jamison, said he was compelled to get the ball rolling after hearing complaints from a group of community members. 

“Now, we have the whole community coming, the whole River Valley community – Rumford, Mexico. We’ve invited everybody – Dixfield, Peru. Everybody who wants to come can come," Jamison said.

Jamison said the River Valley area used to feel safer, but that has changed — especially since the pandemic.

"This used to be a community where us kids would ride our bikes around until the street lights came on, and it was time to come home," Jamison said. "I have four kids. I wouldn’t want my kids to do that right now because of all the crime and drugs that are going on in town."

Mexico town manager Raquel Welch will be speaking at Friday's meeting. She said the River Valley doesn't have the funding or services it needs to get people help, and she wants leaders in Augusta to understand that. 

"Our hands are tied," Welch said.

Welch said growing up in the River Valley, she rarely saw people experiencing homelessness. Now, she said there's a backlog of people waiting to get into the one shelter in the area.

"They’re living on the riverbanks," Welch said. "We see tents, clothes hanging over the guardrails where people have been washing them in the rivers.”

Welch said she's hoping Friday's meeting will bring attention to this issue and eventually help the area get more money for programming, shelters, and social workers.

"Ultimately, I don’t think too many people really want to be homeless. but they need help – and we just don’t have the help to give," Welch said.

This meeting is scheduled to take place at the Mountain Valley Middle School auditorium in Mexico. Organizers say there will be a Q&A section where community members can participate. 

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