The Interactive Resource Center will be running Greensboro’s Doorway Project, again.
Last year, the city set up Pallet shelters at Pomona Park to shield unhoused people during the coldest months of the year. The 30 units of temporary, pop-up housing offered residents 64 square feet. Each shelter claimed to be big enough for two people, with the max population of the community estimated to be around 58 individuals. The 30th shelter was used as an office and cell-phone charging station.
This year the city has authorized funding up to $193,660 for the project. The agreement was approved during a city council meeting on Tuesday evening.
Last year the estimated cost of the program was $200,000, which was intended to cover security, case management and bus passes. According to city documents and HND, the actual amount expended was $159,059.
The city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Michelle Kennedy told TCB that the IRC was the only applicant last year. According to HND Assistant Director Cynthia Blue, the IRC was the only applicant this year as well.
Between mid-December and mid-March, 75 people stayed in the Pallet shelters and 80 percent of residents “were able to move into some other type of shelter or housing by the end of the program,” IRC Director Kristina Singleton wrote in an email to TCB.
Councilmember Zack Matheny represents District 3 — an area that covers much of downtown. Matheny was critical of the project and advocated for more permanent housing instead of “putting a Band-Aid on what we’re experiencing in our community right now.”
“It’s not a good alternative, but it’s the only alternative,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan said.
“We have to move forward with this and hopefully we’ll see more buildings go vertical,” she said.
Matheny also noted that many unsheltered people have died downtown recently “from somebody else’s hands or natural causes.” In August, Tiffany Holmes-Williams, an unhoused person and advocate who spoke at council meetings, was murdered in the former News & Record building in August.
“My concern is, we pass this Band-Aid — which I may or may not support — and we think that we’ve done something,” Matheny said, adding that he’d walked through Center City Park that day.
“The amount of people living in the park, whether they’re in tents or otherwise, is incredible. The folks living in the front of our buildings…. We are perpetuating making it worse…. We’re not making it better.”
The city has put up funding for multiple homelessness-prevention services and initiatives over the years, including purchase of the 30 shelters for more than $500,000 and funding the Doorway Project. In May, the city pledged to focus on the development of permanent supportive housing and encourage “cooperation” from governmental agencies, housing and care providers. The city also partnered with the national organization Step Up to fund and develop permanent supportive housing services for houseless individuals at the former Regency Inn.
“This is a Band-Aid,” Vaughan said of the Pallet shelters, adding, “We know that the long-term solutions are housing. It will be things like the Regency and the Oaks, but right now we don’t have those units online.
“This is a lost opportunity. We are spending this money on a one-time thing for the Pallet shelters when we should be investing it in something else, but we are in a position where these are life and death decisions,” Vaughan continued.
Councilmembers expressed frustration over the pressure that’s been placed on the city, suggesting that other parties should also be held responsible for helping the city’s unhoused.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower said that they “can’t be the only one to try to solve this. The county’s got to be at this table.”
Councilmember Tammi Thurm echoed Hightower’s concerns.
“I’ve only been here for six years, and for six years we’ve not had the partnership from the people that really should be doing this work and helping to fund this work,” she said. “And until we find a way to hold those people accountable as well, we’re going to be stuck footing the bill.”
Thurm added that it’s time that they be “real open and real honest about the people that are getting money or that should be doing this work and aren’t doing the work, and until the public starts pushing on those people as well, nothing’s going to change.”
“We pussyfoot around about who should be doing this work and we might as well say it: this is a county function. This is not a city function,” Thurm stated, adding, “Until the pressure is on the county to do something, we’re going to be in the same position.”
“Frankly, we’ve let our partners off the hook…. They don’t do something, so we step up to do it.”
Vaughan said, “There just aren’t many places left anymore to house people.”
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