The Wilkes County commissioners learned about plans to build a new and considerably larger Catherine Barber Memorial Homeless Shelter and were asked to contribute to the effort Tuesday night.
“The new homeless shelter will cost $500,000 to build—property and building together. We want Wilkes County to partner with us, to help us build this homeless shelter,” said Dan Huffman, shelter board member, during the commissioners’ regular monthly meeting.
“If Wilkes County will give $100,000, we will raise the other $400,000. And we’ve already started raising it individually,” Huffman added.
Commission Chairman Keith Elmore said the commissioners would discuss the request during a work session for the county’s fiscal 2019-20 budget.
The commissioners have a policy of not responding immediately after comments are made during the “public concerns” portion of the meeting, which is when Huffman spoke.
He appeared before the commissioners with Mary Smith, shelter director and daughter of shelter founder and namesake Catherine Barber. The shelter’s 10 board members were also there.
Smith said, “Thank you for listening to us. Hear our plea. We are trying to do good to help other people in the community as we have for 30 years.”
Huffman said the shelter now can house 10 people—six men and four women—in its rented former residence on N.C. 18 North in North Wilkesboro.
The proposed 3,000-square-foot shelter would have capacity for 40 people, which he said should allow for growth.
Homelessness “is continuing to grow. Everyone knows that. It’s just what’s happening in life.” He said this increasing need was discussed in a recent meeting at First Baptist Church of North Wilkesboro.
He said usage of the Barber shelter increased from 1,406 bed nights in 2014 to 2,016 bed nights in 2018. A bed night is one person assigned to one bed for one night.
It provided overnight shelter for 198 people in 2018, including 13 children and 60 adult women. The remainder were adult men.
Huffman said the board plans to continue with the equivalent of two fulltime staff and the $45,000 annual budget it has now in the new facility.
The shelter is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and receives funding from Wilkes County government ($7,000 this year), United Way of Wilkes ($5,600 this year), the Town of North Wilkesboro, about 20 churches and numerous individuals.
It provides temporary overnight shelter with staffing each night and is open 365 days a year. Allowing for exceptions if necessary, he said, a maximum of 14 consecutive nights is allowed per individual.
Huffman said the Barber shelter works with the Hospitality House of Northwest North Carolina, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wilkesboro and other resources to provide shelter for people when it runs out of space or people have reached the maximum number of consecutive nights.
“Our mission at this homeless shelter is to help people help themselves. We help them find a job. We feed them when they come in, help them get a shower, help wash their clothes,” said Huffman.
“Our goal is to help get them back on their feet. We have testimonial letters” from people helped. “They come stay with us two to three weeks and get back on their feet” with a job and a place to stay.
Job openings listed by N.C. Employment Security Commission are posted at the shelter.
Huffman, who is a building contractor, said plans have been drawn for a facility with three completely separate areas—one for families, another for men and the third for women.
He said it will include a resource area where shelter clients can hear guest speakers, use computers to look for jobs and receive other assistance to help them no longer need the shelter. He said it will have a large kitchen and separate showers.
“Right now, we don’t have that…. We can barely turn around. It’s small…. Now we have one shower that people have to take turns in.”
Huffman said two properties in the N.C. 18 North area are under consideration for purchase.
He said fundraising for the new shelter began about two weeks ago, with the largest contribution so far coming from Marolyn Johnson of Wilkesboro.
Huffman said Lowe’s Companies Inc. is selling building at the company’s cost for the project and contractors are also helping in various ways. He said the organization will benefit from not having to pay rent when the new facility is completed.
He said fundraising cards being given out are aimed at getting 400 people to give $1,000 each. “We’ve set up a stock account. We’ve had people donate stock.” He said there are tax advantages.
Tax-deductible donations for building the new homeless shelter can be mailed to the Catherine Barber Memorial Homeless Shelter at P.O. Box 52, North Wilkesboro, N.C. 28659, or by calling 336-984-1592.