Featured photo: From the IRC’s Facebook page

Last week, city and county leaders in Greensboro, High Point and Guilford County approved funds to increase services for the homeless community in the Triad.

Increased funding will help pay for emergency short-term shelter assistance for people to live in the Regency Hotel through the winter months and also help the Interactive Resource Center, also known as the IRC, move from being a day center for people experiencing homelessness to a 24/7 entity.

“With an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, we’ve been noticing a lot of folks who work full time and were not able to access our resources,” Executive Director Kristina Singleton told TCB. “With the unmet needs in the community, now is the time to go ahead and offer that. It seems like a necessity.”

The total number of people experiencing homelessness in Guilford County has risen — last year’s Point-In-Time count recorded 426 people, whereas this year there were 452.

Since its opening in 2008, the IRC has been a day center with hours of operation from 8 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. As a day center, the building doesn’t have a place for people to sleep; instead, it offers a place for people to shower, do laundry, charge their cell phones and rest. Now, with funding commitments from the cities of Greensboro and High Point as well as Guilford County, the IRC enters a new phase by transitioning into a full-time center.

On Dec. 7, Guilford County commissioners unanimously approved $306,000 in funding to support the cause. Singleton told commissioners that the city of Greensboro had already committed $297,000. The funding is for one year.

The total cost of transitioning to a full-time operation will be about $920,000, Singleton said, with most of the expenditures consisting of paying for staff. 

“We’re basically doubling the staff of the IRC,” Singleton said.

Going full-time would mean having about 21 additional employees, with 16 being hired full-time and five part-time, she said.

The remaining funding would come from other sources like corporations or individual giving.

“We’ve wanted to go 24/7 for a long time,” Singleton said.

But with any transition, the changes in hours will come in phases, she said.

The first phase will hopefully start on Jan. 1, with the opening of the third shift in which the center would close at 3 p.m. like usual but then reopen at 8 or 10 p.m. and stay open until 3 p.m. the next day.

This would allow people to come and use the IRC’s amenities with more frequency and to escape the cold during the winter months. 

Eventually, the goal would be for the IRC to cover weekends, which they currently are not open for, and to cover the 3-8 p.m. time slot as well.

Currently the IRC also acts as a “white flag” center during the coldest months of the year in which anyone can visit the center and stay overnight. However, there are no beds. 

Instead, the center acts as a warming center to keep people out of the elements. And that’s because there are already shelters in the community, including the Greensboro Urban Ministry, that provide beds, Singleton said. The white flag center serves upwards of 100 people per night and if they were to set up beds, that number would decrease to about 20, she said.

City leaders and the county commission also approved funding for hotel assistance last week as well.

On Dec. 5, Greensboro city leaders unanimously agreed to commit $100,000 to emergency hotel assistance for people experiencing homelessness. The allocation from the city to the Guilford County Continuum of Care for the remainder of fiscal year 2023-24 is contingent upon a match commitment by the city of High Point and Guilford County. In November, the two cities and county agreed to commit $100,000 each. Guilford county commissioners approved their portion of the funding on Dec. 7.

The IRC is also running its second year of the Pallet program and Safe Parking initiative.

What else can be done?

Before agreeing to the hotel assistance funding, District 3 councilmember Zack Matheny expressed concern over how effective these dollars might be. Matheny has stated in several council meetings that he spends a lot of time in Center City Park, an area of the city where many unhoused people congregate. 

Matheny shared a recent story about the park, saying that he “finally” got a caseworker to come down to the park to help people.

Center City Park is where a number of unhoused people hang out during the day. (photo by Gale Melcher)

He said he introduced the caseworker to one of his unhoused friends, who is in a wheelchair.

The man just wants shelter, Matheny said. But Matheny said that all the caseworker did was hand him her business card, telling him to call her. But he said he didn’t have a phone, Matheny continued. The caseworker then suggested that he come down to her office on East Wendover Avenue. 

“How is he going to get there? He’s in a wheelchair, in the park,” Matheny said, expressing frustration as he continued, “She’s there, all they’ve got to do is connect. They were there, and that was the response.”

“Expecting people experiencing homelessness to come to where you are is the exact opposite of outreach,” Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Michelle Kennedy said, adding, “Outreach is intended to be in tent encampments, in places where people gather. It is an active process where you have to go to the community.”

Matheny said, “For a caseworker — that can get somebody the help that they need — [to] look at that person in a wheelchair with one leg and say, ‘Call me,’ is insensitive. ‘Wheel yourself down East Wendover Avenue, come to me’ when you’re standing there looking at the person in the eye.”

Matheny said that he takes issue with the “lack of street outreach and the lack of caseworkers helping.”

The city has put up funding for multiple projects to combat homelessness such as the Pallet homes where people will stay during the winter months. City leaders have repeatedly expressed frustration, saying that they need more help in this effort from the county and other community partners.

The Pallet community in Greensboro (photo by Gale Melcher)

“How can y’all tell us that the investment that we’re talking about putting into this is actually going to matter?” Matheny asked, adding, “How can we make a proactive approach for the folks that are in need?”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan suggested that it would be helpful to have space downtown for outreach, suggesting a vacant space in the downtown library. This would provide a space with “desks and chairs” and connect outreach teams to people in need. City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba told Vaughan that he would look into it and follow-up with her. Jaiyeoba also conveyed consternation about the funding to the council, saying that while he understands the “logic and the rationale” behind the $100,000 commitment, his “apprehension is that it’s only going to last 90 days, if that.” 

Jaiyeoba added, “If that happens, then what happens next?”

“I don’t think we need to be in the business of constantly having to slap $100,000 every three months or 60 days towards something like this,” Jaiyeoba said.

During the county commission meeting on Dec. 7, Singleton agreed.

“We know that this isn’t a long term solution and we will continue working towards those long-term solutions and actually trying to get people into housing, but here we are in December again, so we felt like this was the best solution for people to come,” she said.

During the meeting, Singleton noted that there are about 600 people on the waitlist for services provided by organizations in the area.

She also told TCB that the Pallet community, which has the capacity to house about 60 individuals, should be full this week.

Gale Melcher contributed reporting for this piece.

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