- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Nov. 27

Asheville Citizen-Times on resources for the homeless:

We have come a long way since homelessness among women was not considered to be a problem, but we still have a long way to go.

It wasn’t that long ago that programs for the homeless were exclusively for men. The assumption was that all a homeless woman had to do was find a man to take her in and take care of her.

We’ve left those attitudes behind - at east most of us have - and today there is increasing emphasis on helping homeless women. One good example is Room in the Inn, which takes in women and pairs them with case managers to transition into permanent housing.

Room in the Inn, operated by Homeward Bound, helps up to 12 women at a time. Housing is provided by local churches. Clients at the moment include Pam Pressley, a 42-year-old who became homeless after her marriage and a subsequent relationship collapsed. She tried the Western Carolina Rescue Mission shelter, but didn’t fit in with the regimen.

“I had never been homeless before and I needed to figure out how I ended up here and I just wanted to move forward with my life,” Pressley said. “But I couldn’t do that with the strict requirements of the shelter, working long days, so I had to get out of there.”

Her goal is to go back to school to become a nurse after moving into an apartment of her own. “This has all taught me how tough I am and what it means to be a strong woman,” she said.

Pressley is on her way to escaping from homelessness, but there are many others not so fortunate. A significant proportion of Asheville’s homeless population, which numbers more than 500, are women. Roughly 30 percent of homeless women escaped abusive relationships, which means that going back “home” is not an option.

Various agencies are working to meet the need. The Rescue Mission has overnight facilities for both women and families Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries has Steadfast House, temporary transitional housing for female veterans and children.

But the need is growing, especially for programs of some duration.

Clients at Room in the inn may stay as long as nine months, and they are not necessarily people such as Pressley, who was homeless only for a short period of time. Consider alumna Donna Ball, who was homeless for 13 years, generally living off her sister and men with whom she lived.

“I grew up with parents who were vocal about the fact I was a mistake and that they didn’t want me, so I started using heroin at 11 years old to escape my life,” Ball said.

Today, she lives in her own apartment and has a full-time job working with children and adults with autism. She is married and has a relationship with her children. She has been clean of drugs ever since her first night at Room in the Inn in 2011.

“I knew she was going to make it,” said Sharon Blythe, who since 2009 has been Room in the Inn’s volunteer programs director. “She was honest from the get-go and wanted to get her life back.”

We need more success stories such as Donna Ball’s. Move for Hunger reports that “on a given night, nearly 20 percent of the homeless population had serious mental illness or conditions related to chronic substance abuse.”

That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands. It means that we get moving. We need more facilities on the model of Room in the Inn, which provide long-term housing and counseling. More and more, we will need entities specializing in those with drug and alcohol problems or mental-health issues.

Room in the Inn is doing a great job but it can’t solve the problem alone.

Online: http://www.citizen-times.com

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Nov. 28

The Fayetteville Observer on why Duke Energy should pay some coal ash costs:

This is how business works (the really short and oversimplified version): You add up all the costs of doing what you do - labor, utilities, property, transportation, raw materials - and divide by the units sold to arrive at your actual cost. Then you add a percentage of profit and you’ve got your retail price.

As it deals with the excavation and disposal of the coal ash that it has collected around its present and former coal-powered electric plants, Duke Energy proposes using that very formula to pay for the cleanup. Simply put, Duke wants to pass all the cost along to the consumers. If Duke gets its way, it will charge North Carolina consumers an extra $305 million a year, which amounts to a nearly 10 percent rate hike. At a time when inflation is barely touching 2 percent and wages are still stagnant, that could really hurt, especially for already-struggling low-income customers. It will also hurt a lot of Duke’s big customers, including manufacturers who never fully recovered from the recession and whose profit margins are already razor-thin.

Duke executive David Fountain told the state’s Utilities Commission Monday that, “We are, for the benefit of our customers, managing our coal ash basin closure in ways that are environmentally compliant. Those are all environmental compliance costs that we’re seeking cost recovery for because those costs were incurred in a reasonable and prudent manner.”

That’s one of the most basic questions for the commission to decide as it considers Duke’s rate request: Is stockpiling enormous amounts of toxic waste in open pits that are often adjacent to major waterways really reasonable and prudent? And what if those ash impoundments were found leaking - in catastrophic fashion when millions of gallons of ash slurry coated the Dan River in 2014, or on unseen ways when contaminants enter the water table and show up in nearby wells? Duke knows now that those ash basins can be a significant public health and safety threat. Should its customers have to pay the estimated $2.6 billion that the cleanup will cost. When a reasonable and prudent corporate management should have been more vigilant about possible problems long ago?

Most businesses dispose of their waste before it becomes an environmental hazard instead of storing it on-site for decades. Should the consumers bail out Duke’s dubious bet on the safety of that practice? Or should the shareholders of the country’s biggest utility take responsibility for some of that expense?

Yes, Duke did follow the state and federal coal-ash regulations that were in effect at the time - regulations that also ignored the possibility of catastrophic spills and the toxic nature of the ash. It wasn’t until a massive 2008 ash spill from a Tennessee Valley Authority ash-storage pond that anyone realized the potential danger of large-scale ash storage and the need to keep the ash away from public water supplies. But still, there was little change in industry regulation until after the Eden spill, when state and federal officials realized that the TVA spill wasn’t an anomaly. Duke doesn’t appear to have changed its coal ash management strategy after the TVA spill, save perhaps for crossing its corporate fingers and hoping the same thing doesn’t happen here.

Well, it did, and now the company is doing the right thing, moving the ash from many of the basins to safer storage sites, and in some cases, even recycling it into building materials. The company is doing the right thing with the ash, but it’s not so clear that it’s doing the right thing by billing its customers for that expense.

The state’s utility regulators have generally done a good job of keeping rate hikes down and negotiating rate requests with utilities. In fact, even before the hearings began, state officials persuaded Duke to cut the size of the rate hike request.

We hope the commission will trim it considerably more. We’ll accept Duke’s argument that consumers and business have benefited for decades from cheap electric rates. But we don’t buy the utility’s belief that consumers should foot the entire bill for moving all that coal ash. At some point, companies have to take responsibility for their own decisions.

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com/

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Nov. 28

News & Record of Greensboro on prison workers:

The state owed Meggan Callahan much better.

The medical examiner said her assailant threw hot or boiling water into her face, causing burns. Then he tried to cut her with a piece of glass. Finally, he hit her over the head with a fire extinguisher - many times - breaking her skull. The 29-year-old woman died of her injuries.

Callahan was an officer at Bertie Correctional Institute. Her attacker was an inmate, a convicted murderer who set a fire and, when she responded, sprang his deadly ambush.

That happened in April. The incident might have been forgotten or overlooked by the public - although not by her family, friends and fellow officers - if it weren’t for the bloodbath at a prison in Pasquotank County in October. The killings of four employees by inmates sounded loud alarms. There was a hidden but now obvious problem behind our prison walls. These are incredibly dangerous places for employees. So we must add four names of those whom the state has failed: Veronica Darden, Justin Smith, Wendy Shannon and Geoffrey Howe.

One common denominator was quickly identified: The prisons were understaffed, by 26 percent at Bertie at the time of Callahan’s murder and by 28 percent at Pasquotank when several inmates attempted a violent escape.

Low pay is one reason for that, and it must be substantially improved. Better starting pay is needed to attract more recruits, and regular increases should be provided to make sure that experienced officers stay on the job.

This isn’t work that’s suitable for everyone. Security officers have to be alert, quick-thinking and well-trained. They have to be excellent people managers, adept at defusing conflicts and staying out of dangerous situations. They have to understand that, while prisons house criminals, one of their purposes is rehabilitation - and that inmates are human beings with human needs. These should be highly valued skills.

Prison officials also must consider whether they have the right systems and mechanisms in place to ensure safety. Are employees too often exposed to possible harm without proper backup? That clearly was the case in both fatal episodes this year. The state has taken steps to address those deficiencies but always must be assessing its practices and policies.

More than 20 years ago, lawmakers significantly changed the sentencing structure in North Carolina. They eliminated parole and many of the provisions that allowed inmates to earn time off their sentences with good behavior and efforts to improve their education and work skills. The public wanted the assurance that a criminal who was sentenced to life in prison would actually be locked up for the rest of his life.

As far as the public was concerned, that was the end of the story. No consideration was given to the practical effect of denying hope to people condemned to close confinement for the rest of their lives or for many decades. In such circumstances, some inmates might think they have nothing to lose by trying to escape or by assaulting a guard.

Appropriate state agencies or the legislature should study whether the elimination of parole and other incentives for good behavior has made our prisons more dangerous for the people who work in them. This study should look at practices in other states to determine whether some are more successful in managing their prison populations.

North Carolina’s failure can’t be laid at the feet of a governor or a legislature or prison administrators. It’s a systemic failure, and the public is partly responsible because of its “out of sight, out of mind” attitude toward prisons and desire to spend less tax money.

Few of us worried about Meggan Callahan, Veronica Darden, Justin Smith, Wendy Shannon and Geoffrey Howe until it was too late for them. We all owed them more, as we owe thousands of others who work around the clock in dangerous places for low pay and little thanks.

Online: http://www.greensboro.com/

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