WASHINGTON — — If conservatives want to help solve the problems of opioid addiction and high crime in poor neighborhoods, they need to embed in the communities and work with local leaders, Robert Woodson, an American community development leader,  said  Tuesday .    

“The information to solve the problem of drug addiction, of crime and violence, of despair abides in the communities suffering the problem … What the conservative movement has to do is join in partnership and learn to be on tap but not on top,” Woodson said at a Heritage Foundation lecture in honor of Jay Parker, a leader of the black conservative movement.     

Woodson argued that instead of conducting research by consulting with traditional power sources, think tanks – like the conservative Heritage Foundation — need to work with grassroots movement leaders and faith-based activists to solve issues like the opioid crisis. He said that at the start of the civil rights movement, there was a bifurcation of the interests of the low- income black community and upper-income blacks – leaving impoverished communities in the dust.  

“I realized that a lot of the people in the civil rights movement who suffered and sacrificed most did not benefit from the change,” he said. 

In fact, Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson has noted that income inequality within the black community is growing at a faster rate than in the white community. He describes the existence of two black social classes: a professional middle class and an impoverished working class. For Woodson, the latter has been ignored for too long from public conversations, and he thinks conservatives should be striking a “strategic alliance” with those communities.  

“We’ve created a commodity out of poor people,” Woodson argued when stating that liberals ask which problems are fundable instead of which problems are solvable. He said by funding welfare programs, the black middle class created a living on serving the black working class. 

In response to the opioid crisis, Philadelphia is considering opening the first safe injection site in the country, a place for people suffering from heroin or opioid addiction to use the drugs under medical supervision. Ideally, supporters argue, these centers would help bridge a gap between users and medical treatment for addictions. However, the proposal has been controversial.  

Woodson criticized safe injection sites as a liberal “secular approach” to the crisis. Instead, conservatives should take a page from the anti-abortion movement and set up counseling centers to help addicts, he said. Conservatives also should fund faith-based facilities to “offer an alternative,” he said.  

“The conservative movement needs to move out from its comfortable place and develop a ground game,” Woodson said.