How this abandoned warehouse will help women fight opioid abuse

RICHMOND, Va. -- An abandoned Phillip Morris warehouse in south Richmond could soon become a weapon in the fight against opioid abuse.

CARITAS -- a local organization providing homelessness and addiction services -- is working to purchase the warehouse and convert it into a women's recovery center.

The facility would house treatment programs and sober living apartments for local women struggling with addiction.

"When we did a study in 2009, there were 200 women in any given year. With the opioid epidemic that number has likely quadrupled, if anything," Caritas CEO Karen Stanley said.

Stanley said they already operate a men's healing center, but added right now in Richmond, there is not a facility that specifically focuses on the immediate addiction care needs of local women.

She said women who do not have the money to pay for emergency addiction treatment are usually referred out of state.

"They don't want to leave the state and lose that family connection and family support," she said. "We'll have immediate access for women, that's a huge part right there, and all the supports they need to become self-sufficient in the future.”

Opioid addiction was recently declared a public health crisis in Virginia. Currently, low-income women seeking addiction treatment have to wait several months before they enter a treatment program, Stanley said.

"This is not a moral failing. This is a disease that we need to get in front of and we need to support by providing the services folks need to get better," she said.

The warehouse facility is 120,000 square feet.

Upon completion sometime in 2018, the facility would house up to 40 sober-living apartments to help women in recovery maintain their progress, furniture bank warehouse space, and CARITAS administrative offices.

Richmond's Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the proposal January 3, and a final vote by City Council is set to take place on January 9.

CARITAS officials said they were "confident" the measure will pass.