Louisville Magazine

AUG 2015

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/544853

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Page 48 of 140

46 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 46 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 fcials can't recall anyplace in rural America that has recently experienced an epidemic of this magnitude. Normally Scott County sees fve or fewer new HIV cases a year. (Just a handful of the 169 cases have been traced to surrounding counties.) Nation- ally, about 8 percent of new HIV cases are attributed to injection drug use; here, 90 percent of positive cases are linked to sharing dirty needles. Many who are infect- ed don't want to talk about it, sometimes speaking of their "status" in whispers. "I thought it was just a homosexual disease," a tearful woman told the New York Times after learning of her positive diagnosis. It all seems misplaced, seems like San Francisco in the 1980s or a third-world country. HIV, a disease that damages the immune system and is passed through blood, semen or vaginal fuids, is an ur- ban problem. In 2013, only six percent of the diagnoses were in counties with fewer than 50,000 people. And Austin, the epicenter of this outbreak, carries honest grit, the kind country towns take pride in. Packed pews spoil the heavens on Sunday mornings. Hard-working men and women report to one of the handful of factories nearby for 12-hour shifts, sometimes six days a week. Lawnmowers hum ahead of a summer storm. Main Street has the sta- ples — hardware store, bank, pharmacy, doctor, trains that crawl and clatter. And two major roads — one stretching north and south, the other east and west — si- phon the trafc from narrow, residential side streets. A recent 30-year Austin High School reunion brought together a scien- tist, a dentist, a lawyer, but they all had long since moved away. It is a place that could easily be plucked from Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, exalted in Americana lore. Tis spring, as Austin stumbled into the headlines, the righteous sought light. Pray for Austin. Pray for Scott County. Let us unite, walk with our brother and sister, and heal the sufering. Twenty-fve percent of Austin residents live below the poverty line. Tree-quarters of Austin's elementary school children re- ceive free or reduced-price lunch. In 2013, the Scott County Department of Child Services removed 117 kids from their care- givers, with 65 percent of those removed because of substance-abuse issues in the home. According to recent U.S. Census data, in Scott County one out of fve adults lives in poverty, 22 percent have not graduated high school and 15 percent of the population is unemployed. Te county consistently ranks at the bottom of Indi- ana's 92 counties when it comes to life ex- Gov. Pence, Indiana's frst clean- needle exchange occupies a back corner of the warehouse. Pence, a Republican, previously opposed such exchanges. But he knew HIV would continue to spread if dirty needles stayed in the hands of IV drug users. (Tis spring, Louisville also started a needle-exchange program, in part due to the outbreak in Indiana.) On press-conference days, SUVs pa- rading news logos saturate Austin streets, hunting for fresh angles, dirty needles in trashcans and someone willing to shoot up in front of them. It's not just local media. CNN, Yahoo! News, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Washington Post have trekked to Southern Indi- ana. By late spring, residents in the drug-addled parts of town have grown so wary of reporters that they honk to signal one another when one is spotted. Tammy Breeding is a willing and early media regular — concerned single mom, quick with the sound bite. She's known for the 9mm Ruger she carries on her hip and her front-lawn sign: No loitering or prosti- tuting in front of or around these premises. A 41-year-old with feathery blond hair and intense blue eyes, Breeding is a former Hanover, Indiana, cop and vet- eran with a dial set to justice. I meet her on a sunny May afternoon. She wears aviator sunglasses and a short- sleeve shirt rolled up to display a Marine Corps tattoo on her biceps. She moved to Austin a year ago from Fort Knox after splitting with a cheating fancé. A Scotts- burg native, she knew Austin had a bad reputation. But it's afordable, so she and her three youngest children settled into a white house with a red roof on Austin's north side. I'll visit a couple times. It's usually pretty quiet. Te kids ride bikes in tight loops under her watchful eye and scale trees when she's not looking. Breeding says to look closer. "See that guy?" she says, pointing to a young man in black shorts pushing a lawn mower. "You can see the marks on his legs where he shoots up." She sits on her porch, which communicates a set of values — American fag, spring fowers and security-camera signs. Breeding points to a house behind her. Drug house, she says. Te one a half-block to the right? Drug house, with a vocal resident. "He was out last night calling me a bitch and all that," she says. pectancy and overall well-being, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's national health rankings. In the early '80s, John Cougar Mellen- camp shot scenes for his "Pink Houses" video in Austin. It fexes like a patriotic anthem. Politicians use it to pump up crowds. Mellencamp grew up just 19 miles north of Austin in Seymour. Tere's winners and there's losers But they ain't no big deal 'Cause the simple man, baby Pays for the thrills Te bills the pills that kill. I head to Austin for the frst time in late April. Most homes — from tidy to ragged — warn outsiders with "No Trespassing" and "Private Property" signs. About 30 modest, one- room churches, many Pentecostal, dot the town. And cottony weeds — the ones wishes blow to bits — form soft, thick mobs at abandoned homes and the city ballpark. Everyone who dips into the crisis — journalists, social workers, government health specialists — rationalizes the matter. Austin had the right ingredients in place. So do other rural communities — poverty, scant social services, no drug-detox or addiction-treatment facilities. My frst stop is the Indiana State Depart- ment of Health's weekly media gathering at Austin City Hall. Quite formal, there are sign-in sheets, neat rows of soft blue chairs for reporters, a designated front-and-center space for television cameras, a podium where one message repeats: It's a long-term problem, no easy fxes. Te briefngs oc- casionally end with a swatting of rumors: "I've heard of people becoming infected by stepping on needles. Is it true?" False tales fy among Austin residents. Te wildest one overheard: Infected child bites innocent kid at daycare. Victim now positive. By April, ISDH has set up a Communi- ty Outreach Center (dubbed the One-Stop Shop) in a large warehouse that looks out on I-65. Open daily, those who've tested positive can receive HIV antiretroviral medication here that tames the virus. Te center ofers prevention and sub- stance-abuse information. People can sign up for the state's afordable health plan. And thanks to an executive order from CNN, Yahoo! News, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Washington Post all trek to Southern Indiana. Residents in the drug- addled parts of town have grown so wary of reporters that they honk to signal one another when one is spotted.

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