"We couldn't get a space in downtown Santa Ana because none of them wanted to deal with people in recovery," Star says about property owners.

"It was just a real punch in the stomach," McKie says now, "thinking I came home to my community and friends."

*     *     *

Are Ed McKie and MethEds unsuitable for downtown Santa Ana?
Jeanne Rice
Are Ed McKie and MethEds unsuitable for downtown Santa Ana?
McKie hopes local artists such as Joseph Hawa and MethEds can work together
Jeanne Rice
McKie hopes local artists such as Joseph Hawa and MethEds can work together

But while the current tenants at the Artists' Village are always receptive to the idea of new businesses coming to the area, some of them can also testify to how hard it is simply to beartists.

"Right now," says Andrea Harris, director of Grand Central Art Center, "it's just really, really tough for anybody to open a gallery here. It's a great and beautiful life to be around art and artists, but there isn't money in it. We're doing simple after-school programs for high-school kids, and we can't even get those approved. These kids have no criminal records or anything—I just can't imagine the struggles [McKie is] having."

Conceived in 1994, Grand Central Art Center is the result of a partnership between the city of Santa Ana and Cal State Fullerton. The three-level structure sprawls over three city blocks that contain student apartments, galleries, classrooms, a computer lab, studios and more.

"[McKie's] effort to create a nonprofit is a great thing to do. Helping people is really what our lives are about in the end," Harris says. "He wants to make a difference, start a café—something—to help lives. He just needs to find the right thing."

A gallery owner in the area, who asked to remain anonymous, has another concern: cigarette smoke.

"Addictive people trade off their addictions," she says. "And when I pass by places where they had AA meetings, people would come out and start smoking—I mean, it's a hugeamount of smoking. If one person in the Santora, even outside on the sidewalk, smokes, it comes into the gallery. And that's one person," she complains.

The gallery owner also doesn't think art is the best vocational choice for McKie's venture. "We're pushing up daisies. We're not selling. And if we're not selling, and the Santora has been an art group for 13, 14 years . . . We've lost some really good artists that have names. If we're not doing it, I don't see how [McKie's proposed gallery] is going to work. And that's going to add to the frustration."

But it's not just hesitant landlords; it's the city and county, as well.

"I make my living in politics, so I deal with officials on a daily basis. Very few [officials] are actually aware of what's going on," Star says. "The only person wanting to attack the problem is Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. We talked about drug use and AIDS, and she's the only elected official that's willing to go out of her way to do something about it."

When contacted by the Weekly about her thoughts on Metheds, Sanchez's office released the following statement: "Although Congresswoman Sanchez has not discussed the specifics of the proposed program for recovering LGBT meth addicts with Mitch Star, she understands the growing meth addiction epidemic, particularly among young adults ages 18 to 25, and supports drug treatment centers/programs for recovering meth addicts. In 2008, Congresswoman Sanchez secured $188,000 for the Phoenix Academy of Orange County Drug Treatment Program."

Sanchez's concern is an anomaly, Star says. "The OC Board of Supervisors doesn't even know what's going on. [Assemblywoman] Mimi Walters looked at me like I was a piece of trash when I approached her at a community event about AIDS and drugs in Orange County.

"Our public officials have no idea," Star continues. "There's no reason to. There's no public outcry. Offices aren't being slammed with letters and e-mails and correspondence."

Star points out that neither of the two major LGBT nonprofit organizations within Orange County, the Center OC and AIDS Services Foundation, offers its own programs for meth treatment.

But Ginger Hahn, executive director for the Center OC, insists, "The Center OC is very interested in the prevention of meth use among youth as well as raising awareness in the community about the epidemic—that's where we believe we make the most impact. At this point, we are not involved in treatment or recovery services—we intend to stay focused on prevention. We have just presented a proposal to fund a youth-driven methamphetamine prevention project to a foundation for consideration."

The Center will guide you to meth-related resources—including referrals to Crystal Meth Anonymous, which meets every Sunday—but when the Weekly called the Center recently asking about meth, a courteous man suggested calling Ed McKie.

But the numbers are there. The same Orange County Methamphetamine Needs Assessment produced for the OC Methamphetamine Task Force reports that in 2006, within Orange County, the highest rates of methamphetamine are in Santa Ana. At 55.4 percent, more than half of treatment admissions were the result of methamphetamine use. And nearly half of all lab seizures in Orange County from 2001 to 2005 were in Anaheim and Santa Ana.

Even the state of California has acknowledged the issue: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave $11 million to the Me Not Meth campaign, aimed at the gay community and now splashed all over billboards and the sides of buses in Los Angeles and Long Beach. But not in Orange County.

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