Politics & Elections

Providence mayoral candidates tackle questions from addiction recovery community

“As you know, 435 of our friends and family members died of accidental drug overdoses in the state last year. 94 of those people were Providence residents. How will your administration specifically support overdose prevention initiatives such as the Harm Reduction Centers during your first term?”
Photo for Providence mayoral candidates tackle questions from addiction recovery community

Published on August 5, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

The Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts (RICARES) held a Mayoral forum on Tuesday evening at the Jim Gillen Teen Center on North Main Street to discuss recovery and addiction issues. Impacted community members and advocates shared their experiences and asked candidates for mayor of Providence how they will address the topics of harm reduction, policing, and housing. The event was cohosted by Anchor Recovery, Amos House, Project Weber/Renew, PONI (Preventing Overdose & Naloxone Intervention), Recovery Friendly Workplaces RI, and The Recovery Advocacy Project and moderated by Channel 10 reporter Alison Bologna.

The Candidates:

Gonzalo Cuervo has served as Chief of Staff under Mayor Angel Taveras and as Chief of Staff and Deputy Secretary of State under Nellie Gorbea.

Gonzalo Cuervo

Nirva LaFortune is the Providence City Councilor for Ward 3.

Nirva LaFortune

Brett Smiley has served as Chief Operating Officer under Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Chief of Staff to Governor Gina Raimondo.

Brett Smiley

Following the Uprise RI format, each question is written out as asked by the moderator, followed by video of each respondent’s answer.

Recovery is a living reality for many Providence residents and there are many pathways to recovery and all are celebrated. Recovery is a voluntary process that flourishes in supportive communities, and recovering/recovered people are part of the solutions. How will you ensure that people with lived experience in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders have decision-making and meaningful participation around policy and decisions that impact us?

Brett Smiley:


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Nirva LaFortune:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Follow up: How do you view the role of the Healthy Community Office and the Providence Behavioral Health Task Force?

Brett Smiley:

Nirva LaFortune:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

As you know, 435 of our friends and family members died of accidental drug overdoses in the state last year. 94 of those people were Providence residents. How will your administration specifically support overdose prevention initiatives such as the Harm Reduction Centers during your first term?

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Nirva LaFortune:

Brett Smiley:

Follow up: How do we get more naloxone, Narcan, out on the streets?

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Nirva LaFortune:

Brett Smiley:

Follow up: What specifically can the mayor’s office do to be a champion around overcoming NIMBYism and building harm reduction centers where they are needed?

Brett Smiley:

Nirva LaFortune:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Access to housing is health care. The lack of safe and affordable housing is a primary barrier to initiating and sustaining recovery. How will you determine and assure, that a range of supportive housing services, including recovery housing, will be constructed or available in every neighborhood of the city?

Brett Smiley:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Nirva LaFortune:

Follow up: It takes a long time to build affordable housing. There’s a lot of regulations, a lot of money goes to the banks. How do you handle that when on average, to build affordable housing takes five years?

Brett Smiley:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Nirva LaFortune:

“Today Kevin Jackson and I went to Rhode Island Housing to advocate for a young lady at a housing appeal,” said Tarah Dorsey, Court Support Navigator at Weber Renew. “She advocated well for herself. The person from Rhode Island Housing said, “I see your charges here. Domestic violence and a drug charge from almost a year ago. I can ignore the domestic violence charge, but on the drug charge, I have to be fair to everyone, so I can’t ignore that charge. The amount of drugs she had was not enough to use. It was residue. But because it was her third offense, it was charged as a felony. Now she and her son may not qualify for housing, despite the fact that she is in recovery and doing well. What can the mayor do to help in cases like this?”

Brett Smiley:

Nirva LaFortune:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Follow up: There are significant intersections between Behavioral Health disorders and the criminal justice system. We see almost daily evidence of discrimination by the police toward people who have problems with alcohol and other substances. A current Rhode Island department of health surveyed 189 people who witnessed an overdose in the past year, and only 16 people reported police officers using naloxone. How will you address and minimize this discrimination?

Nirva LaFortune:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Brett Smiley:

Follow up: All of you have stated you support crisis intervention programs. This solution involves linking people in crises to our already overburdened social services and community organizations. Many of them are in the room right now. How exactly will these programs be developed and function? How do you view the role of the Healthy Communities Office and the Providence Behavioral Health Taskforce?

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Nirva LaFortune:

Brett Smiley:

From reporter Pat Ford: Will any of you pledge to end tax stabilization agreements if you’re elected to be Mayor of Providence?

Brett Smiley:

Nirva LaFortune:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

Closing statements:

Brett Smiley:

Nirva LaFortune:

Gonzalo Cuervo:

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