Several residents of the Fairplains community spoke out against the proposed construction of a new Catherine H. Barber Homeless Shelter at 108 Sparta Road (N.C. 18 North) during the North Wilkesboro commissioners meeting Thursday night.
Eight people indicated opposition to plans of the Barber Homeless Shelter board to build a 40-bed homeless shelter on the site, which is for sale, when they spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting.
The current 11-bed shelter is at 86 Sparta Road, about two-tenths of a mile south of the proposed new site. The proposed new site is next door to Beulah Presbyterian Church. A community meeting concerning the proposed site of the homeless shelter is at 6 p.m. today (Tuesday) in the church’s fellowship hall.
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.
Huffman told the town board that 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. Fundraising is underway for the project.
The homeless shelter board has applied for a conditional use permit, according to Interim Town Manager Ed Evans, and that variance request is on the agenda of the next planning board of adjustment meeting at 5:30 p.m. July 11 at Town Hall.
The current shelter, designed for temporary overnight stays, is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. An individual’s stay there is limited to no more than 21 days.
Huffman said the purchase of the 1.60-acre parcel is expected to occur if the conditional use permit is granted.
Commissioner Bert Hall reminded the audience Thursday, “I think there’s a misconception here that the town itself is building this shelter. We are not. The people who want to build it have asked for a variance that will come before the (planning) board of adjustment. And we have no say-so on that board.”
Speaking during the public concerns portion of the meeting, Marie Waddell of 111 Sparta Road said, “First of all, we both support and truly understand the need to offer assistance to those in need. However, our area has been overextended with the location of group homes for people with addictions, the methadone clinic as well as the present. The building of this new facility would make the existing problem only greater.”
Waddell, sitting beside her husband, Jim Waddell, described personal encounters with strangers on or near their property posing major concerns for their personal safety. “We are asking the town to not allow the proposed shelter to be built in Fairplains due to the extra stress it will have on our community. The shelter should be located at another site other than Highway 18.”
The homeless shelter board leases the current shelter facility from Tim Byrd and his family. Byrd said his family has never increased the rent on the building and also said the rent was based on it being enough to pay the taxes and utilities.
“We’ve paid out of pocket for them to be in that building, and we will continue to do so because that’s what my (late) dad requested. I’m failing to understand where they’re (the homeless shelter board) suddenly finding funds from that they’ve never had before,” he said.
“I would question what’s going on, simply because nothing has ever been proposed about building a new facility until they got a new president on the board (Elizabeth Huffman) who happens to be the wife of a contractor,” said Byrd, referring to Dan Huffman.
“Why are we building a bigger facility with more beds when we’re not filling up the one we’ve got? I think it’s just somebody trying to make a buck, and it’s a shame they’re trying to make it off the homeless people.”
In an interview Monday, Huffman said he’s been on the shelter board for five years and that Elizabeth Huffman has been board president for four years. He said they never received compensation for their work on the board. “It’s our mission to help people. We don’t do this for any personal benefit.”
He said he wouldn’t be the contractor if a new shelter is built.
Huffman was responding to Byrd when he said, “Tim has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s never been to a meeting” of the homeless shelter board. “We are audited every year. Nobody on the board takes a dime.”
Huffman added, “We want to do a better job serving the homeless. Some days we have to turn people away from the shelter. Everyone who is homeless isn’t a criminal. No one has been hurt and no homes have been broken into (by homeless people at the current shelter) that we’re aware of in the 31 years it’s been open.”
Amanda Jolly, who owns several parcels near the current shelter, including Bell’s Produce at 95 Sparta Road, said homeless people need all the help that can be provided, but the proposed shelter is too close to the North Wilkesboro Comprehensive Treatment Center and Mountain Health Solutions at Northview Plaza. Both facilities provide treatment for opioid addiction with methadone.
Jolly said the current shelter and methadone clinics are “feeding off of each other. It’s a daily issue cleaning trash off our property. Things have changed so much in that community the past five years. And if we go up from an 11-person capacity to 40, the problems that we’re seeing in our community will double or triple, I’m afraid.”
Billy Coles, speaking on behalf of Beulah Presbyterian Church, said he spent most of his time on weekdays policing the grounds around the church. “I’m tired of picking up beer cans and whisky bottles and needles and clothing. That church ground is not a restroom. We don’t want to be mean to anybody but we want our church intact. If they put a new shelter right against the church we don’t stand a chance.”
Perry Carlton, an elder at Beulah Presbyterian, said the church “cannot afford to keep giving to the homeless and receiving nothing in return. This will hurt us very, very badly if they build this building right up against our property. It will ruin our church, and we’re trying to build up, not destroy. I beg of y’all to consider what you’re doing; that’s all I’m asking.”
Steve Jarvis, owner of Billy’s Market at 71 Sparta Road, said, “This property, up and down the road (N.C. 18) is a sleeping lion for growth—key sites everywhere. This is going to hurt, pulling traffic over there. This is no good for any business. It’s a big deal, it really is.” Jarvis also handed over a multi-page petition, signed by local residents, opposing the proposed new site for the shelter.
Fairplains resident Roger Absher, owner of Roger’s Furniture on Sixth Street, North Wilkesboro, said the homeless shelter should be closer to Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes, near the intersection of U.S. 421 and N.C. 16 in Wilkesboro.
“I’m sympathetic to their cause, but Fairplains people do not deserve that,” said Absher. “If (the community) took an old dog in like me and took care of me those years, I owe them to at least try to keep that (shelter) from expanding. Shouldn’t have been put there to begin with. Folks, please stop this thing for us. I want it to stay highway business so I can put my store back there some day when I retire.”