The board of directors of the only homeless shelter in Wilkes County has been told that the shelter’s location for 31 years must be vacated by Oct. 1.
The Catherine H. Barber Memorial Homeless Shelter Board of Directors was told that it must leave the current shelter facility in a letter dated Aug. 27 and signed by Betty Byrd, owner of the property at 86 Sparta Road (N.C. 18 North).
“After careful thought and consideration, I have come to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of all parties that the homeless shelter vacates the property at 86 Sparta Rd., North Wilkesboro,” Byrd stated in the letter. She shared a copy of the letter with the Wilkes Journal-Patriot on Monday.
The letter continued, “It has come to my attention that my smaller facility often sees your ministry in a dilemma of being unable to provide adequate sleeping arrangements for those in need of your help, as board members have stated publicly.
“I have determined that my facility can no longer meet your growing needs in your mission to assist the homeless community of Wilkes County and would be better suited to a smaller nonprofit that better fits my values and vision for the community.
“In recognition of my decades of support to your ministry, I ask that you vacate my property by October 1st, 2019.
“I wish your ministry continued blessings and prosperity as you continue your mission to assist the homeless community of Wilkes County.”
Elizabeth Huffman, president of the homeless shelter board, said Sunday that the board would meet after the Labor Day weekend to discuss options on how to proceed. “We still plan to build a new shelter,” Huffman said.
The homeless shelter board leases the current shelter facility from Byrd and her family for $250 a month. In an interview Monday, Byrd said rent on the former residence has never been increased based on it being enough to pay the property taxes, insurance and utilities.
Byrd said she and the shelter board are “still negotiating” terms and conditions of the eviction notice, but declined to comment further. She added that the discussions should be finished sometime this week.
The “smaller nonprofit” referred to in the letter as a future tenant of the building would ideally be one that helps children, Byrd said.
“I am very much into helping children,” she said. “Kids need to be taken care of. St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital), Shriners (Hospitals for Children), Brenner (Children’s Hospital)—they are near and dear to my heart. I’ve helped several nonprofit organizations with food banks, and donate monthly to several. Carl (Byrd, who died in 2014) and I did that all of our married life.”
Explaining her “vision and values” for the shelter site and the Fairplains community, she said, “We need a good, quiet, easy-going people in (the facility). That’s who I am. I have been doing rental property for almost 50 years, and I’ve tried to keep everything low-key and quiet, and not have a lot of problems out of people.”
Byrd added, “When problems start, I say, ‘Whoa!’ That’s not me; I don’t like it and I’m going to deal with it. That’s just the way I do it. If you want problems, go somewhere else. I’m 67 years old; I’m too old to fool with them. I’ve got enough problems elsewhere.”
Her son, Tim Byrd, said Friday that he “wasn’t involved in that (eviction) decision. My mother and her company made that decision. I’m not saying that I disagree with that decision, though.”
Tim Byrd has been an outspoken opponent of the $500,000 homeless shelter the Barber homeless shelter board wanted to build on property at 108 Sparta Road, adjacent to Beulah Presbyterian Church, near several residences and just north of the current homeless shelter.
Byrd is an associate pastor at the Church of God of Prophecy on Second Street, North Wilkesboro.
On Aug. 22, the North Wilkesboro Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the homeless shelter board’s request for two zoning variances and a conditional use permit needed for the shelter to be built on the 1.6-acre site next to Beulah Presbyterian Church.
The board of adjustment based that decision on the proposed shelter being a little over 67 feet from a residence north of the shelter, much closer than the 250 feet required between a homeless shelter and a residence under an amendment to the town zoning ordinance passed in May 2018.
The board of adjustment also ruled that the proposed shelter would not have access to a public sidewalk, therefore endangering public safety and welfare. Access to a public sidewalk is also stipulated in the town’s homeless shelter amendment.
The existing homeless shelter facility that must be vacated by Oct. 1 can provide temporary shelter for 11 people at a time.
The homeless shelter board is trying to raise $500,000 for building a shelter with capacity for 40 homeless people, a learning center and full kitchen. About $130,000 has been raised for the new center, according to testimony by shelter board members at the Aug. 22 hearing before the board of adjustment.
Tim Byrd earlier said the Fairplains community had been adversely impacted by the combination of the homeless shelter and two facilities that treat people with opioid addiction, the North Wilkesboro Comprehensive Treatment Center and Mountain Health Solutions. Both are at Northview Plaza.
He said the community strongly supported the homeless shelter for many years, but the combination of the treatment facilities and the shelter contributed to making the community a center of people dealing with substance abuse issues, homelessness and poverty. Residents and others have complained about people, who they believe are homeless, being on their property and leaving trash and their clothes there.