According to the annual Point in Time (PIT) Count of the homeless and people involved in addressing homelessness, this issue is worse than ever in Wilkes County.
That appears to be the case despite indicators of an improved local economy, reflecting the complexities of homelessness and the contradictory nature of the current economic “recovery.”
The Catherine Barber Homeless Shelter has long been an important link in the chain of support for those who, for many reasons, lack adequate nighttime shelter. Although the Barber shelter board envisions providing a broader level of service under a plan for building a larger facility, for three decades its primary role has been to provide emergency, short-term shelter.
It’s hard to imagine losing this important local resource, but that could well occur now that the Barber homeless shelter board has been told that its use of the current shelter facility at 86 Sparta Road in North Wilkesboro is being terminated. The owner of the former house used for the shelter for most of 31 years told the board in a letter dated Aug. 27 that it must vacate the property by Oct. 1.
Late this week, there was no indication of the shelter board having any options for the future except to plea for help from local government or the private sector.
Elizabeth Huffman, Barber homeless shelter board chairman, stated on Facebook Tuesday evening, “Finding a new temporary shelter now becomes our first priority. We seek immediate help from the North Wilkesboro commissioners, Wilkesboro Town Council, Wilkes County commissioners and from all members of our community in helping us find a temporary facility that we can use to house and service the homeless.”
Huffman added, “We will continue to seek land where we can construct a new and larger homeless shelter, but solving this immediate problem is urgent, because the homeless are not going away. The only homeless shelter in this county is closing unless we can find new temporary facilities.”
Results of the latest PIT Count effectively document that the problem of homelessness in Wilkes exceeds resources of the Barber homeless shelter, which can provide temporary shelter for 11 people at a time. Not having the Barber homeless shelter will significantly worsen the situation, especially with cool weather just around the bend.
Local volunteer efforts in the nationwide PIT Count the night of this past Jan. 30 enumerated 47 “sheltered” homeless people and another 103 “unsheltered” for a total of 150 experiencing homelessness in Wilkes.
The “unsheltered” included 71 adults and 32 children. HUD defines “unsheltered” as sleeping in public or private places not designated or not ordinarily used for sleeping,” such as a vehicle or beneath a tarp.
Listed as “sheltered” included people at the Barber homeless shelter and those housed by the Brushy Mountain Baptist Association’s Wilkes Ministry of h.o.p.e. in hotels and by Sheltered Aid to Families in Emergencies (SAFE), as well as 12 students with hotel stays funded by the Wilkes County Schools. It includes those in other types of transitional housing.
The PIT Count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in Wilkes one night in January 2018 was 98 people - 63 adults and 35 children.
The homeless from Wilkes staying at Hospitality House, a homeless shelter in Boone, or elsewhere outside Wilkes are counted where those shelters are located. Hospitality House provided 5,517 nights of shelter for 72 people from Wilkes in the first seven months of this year.
That was 19% of the people served by Hospitality House. They include 37 people provided 580 nights of winter shelter services and 17 provided 1,199 nights of emergency shelter in Boone. They also include 14 people provided scattered site permanent housing in Wilkes and four provided transitional housing in Boone.
The Boone-based Northwestern Regional Housing Authority gives preference to homeless people in some of its subsidized rental housing in Wilkes, which amounts to around 30 homeless people.
Hospitality House Director Tina Krause, a Wilkes resident, said Hospitality House works hard to get people into their own residences due to the lack of affordable rental units in the seven counties it serves. Krause said this was accomplished for 103 people last year.
Hospitality House does good work in providing emergency shelter and also by trying to address root causes of homelessness, including by equipping people to find and keep jobs. However, homelessness is one aspect of the human condition that can be counted on to always be around.