The Catherine H. Barber Homeless Shelter Board of Directors plans to vote Monday night on whether to continue efforts on a 1.60-acre parcel at 108 Sparta Road in North Wilkesboro as the potential site of a new shelter or look elsewhere, said board member Dan Huffman Tuesday night.
Huffman made this statement at the end of a meeting that drew eight of the shelter’s 10 board members and about 25 residents and other property owners in the Fairplains community to the sanctuary of Beulah Presbyterian Church, next door to the 108 Sparta Road parcel and a few hundred feet from the existing Barber homeless shelter at 86 Sparta Road.
He also said he had prayed about the matter and that ultimately God’s will should and would prevail.
Fairplains residents concerned about plans for building a shelter with capacity for 40 homeless people (compared to the current shelter’s capacity for 11) next to the church asked questions and at times made emotionally-charged comments about problems they believed were largely coming from people who had stayed or were waiting to stay at the current homeless shelter.
They voiced concerns about finding liquor bottles, beer cans, hypodermic needles, clothes and other items in their yards and around their businesses. Billy Coles, a leader at Beulah Presbyterian, said that while policing the church ground he often had picked up liquor bottles and beer cans and had cleaned up where people had defecated.
Coles said people coming from the homeless shelter had slept on the church porch and grounds and had often asked for money. He said the church had tried to assist people and welcomed visitors at its worship services, but explained that Beulah has a small congregation and limited resources.
Jim Waddell, who lives on the other side of Sparta Road opposite the proposed new shelter site, asked Huffman if the shelter board conducted a study on the potential impact of the larger shelter. Waddell said information should already have been shared at a community meeting.
Huffman said the shelter board had no reason to believe that was necessary and wasn’t aware of the concerns in Fairplains related to the homeless shelter until an article appeared in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot this week with statements of Fairplains residents during a June 27 North Wilkesboro town board meeting. His wife, Elizabeth Huffman, is chairman of the homeless shelter board.
He questioned if people being served by the homeless shelter were causing the problems.
Joanna Perryman asked Huffman if he was aware of the number of calls to the North Wilkesboro Police Department about problems with people who had stayed or were waiting to stay at the shelter. Perryman cited an instance in which a homeless person was found sleeping in her yard.
Huffman said he had seen the list of calls to police about the shelter that Perryman cited and added that most of them weren’t disturbance calls.
When Coles said the North Wilkesboro police sometimes came when called by Fairplains residents and sometimes didn’t, several people at the meeting indicated agreement.
Another Fairplains resident spoke about finding clothes left by people in basements of rental houses he owns on Rogers Street near the homeless shelter.
Huffman said the shelter has been at its current site for 30 years. It’s in a former residence leased from the Byrd family for $250 a month. Huffman said the family, represented at the meeting by Tim Byrd and his mother, have been generous by only charging enough to cover property taxes and the cost of insurance.
Huffman said people are allowed to stay at the shelter a maximum of 14 nights in a row and aren’t allowed there if they are impaired by a controlled substance. It’s open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
He emphasized the need for a larger shelter is demonstrated by the fact that the current facility provided about 2,000 bed nights in 2018, up from about 1,400 bed nights the prior year. Huffman said at times it is full and has to turn people away, while at other times it isn’t full.
He said most of the people staying in the shelter are from Wilkes, but a woman who used to run a business in Fairplains said homeless people had told her about people staying at the local homeless shelters for the maximum number of allowed days and then moving around to other shelters in area counties on the same basis. The woman said they’re essentially on a circuit.
Tim Byrd said it would help if someone from the Fairplains community was on the homeless shelter board.
Byrd said the community had been adversely impacted by a nexus consisting of the homeless shelter and two facilities that treat people with opioid addiction, the North Wilkesboro Comprehensive Treatment Center and Mountain Health Solutions. Both of these treatment facilities are at Northview Plaza.
Byrd said the Fairplains community has been a strong supporter of the homeless shelter for many years, but this combination of the treatment facilities and the homeless shelter contributed to making the community a center of people dealing with substance abuse issues, homelessness and poverty.
When Byrd said Huffman’s wife told him the new center wouldn’t have programs to help people find jobs and get out of poverty, Huffman said that wasn’t true and that Byrd must have misunderstood his wife or she misunderstood what he was asking.
When shelter board member Dan Huffman shared plans for the new shelter and the site at a May 28 town board work session, he was told approval of a conditional use permit from the North Wilkesboro Planning Board of Adjustment would be needed because the site is zoned for a business.
The shelter board wants to build a shelter with a learning center and full kitchen with an estimated cost of $500,000 on the 1.60-acre parcel. A little over $100,000 has been raised toward the goal.
The homeless shelter board’s application for a conditional use permit is on the agenda of the planning board of adjustment meeting at 5:30 p.m. July 11 at North Wilkesboro Town Hall.
Huffman said the board has invested substantial funds on required site studies on the parcel next to Beulah Presbyterian.