Featured photo: The Pallet community in Greensboro (photo by Gale Melcher)

NOTE: An update to this story was posted here.

Editor’s note: TCB takes anonymity for sources seriously and only grants the right to those we believe could be harmed through being named. In this story, TCB grants anonymity to three residents who have lived at the Pallet community who feared that being named could result in retaliation when securing future resources and housing.

Correction (3/13): An earlier version of this piece noted that the shelters were installed in January. In fact, they were installed in December 2022. TCB has corrected the piece and regrets the error.

UPDATED (3/13, 5:13 p.m.): TCB received a response from Michelle Kennedy on Monday morning. The piece has been updated with her clarifications where noted.

UPDATED (3/14, 11:10 a.m.): TCB received a response from Kristina Singleton on Monday evening. The piece has been updated with her clarifications where noted.

On Friday, residents of Greensboro’s Pallet shelter community for the unhoused started getting “eviction notices.” Some of them only have three days to pack up their things and leave.

And that’s because, according to city officials, the Pallet village will be completely dismantled by the end of the month, starting with the first wave on March 14.

“We basically got the eviction notice today,” said one resident who TCB talked with on Friday.

His friend, who stood next to him in the dugout at the park where the Pallet shelters are installed, said that his section is set to come down on March 16. Both men spoke to TCB on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. 

When asked where they would go afterwards, both men said they don’t have any permanent housing lined up.

“I’ll probably go under the bridge where I was before I came,” he said. 

His friend agreed and said that he too, would probably go back to living near the bridge on Spring Garden Street where it enters downtown. As he describes his former setup, he mentioned how it’s tucked away from the street and keeps him safe.

“I should move in with you,” his friend said. 

“You should man,” he said.

The temporary shelters, which cost approximately $500,000, were purchased by the city in October 2022 to shield people experiencing homelessness from the elements during the winter. Thirty shelters were installed in December and have operated for a little more than two months.

Greensboro city council approved funding for pallet houses to house homeless people. (screenshot from city presentation)

The initiative, dubbed the Doorway Project, is operated by the Interactive Resource Center, a center downtown for the unsheltered that is open Monday through Friday.

Since its inception, the Pallet community was meant to be temporary.

During a special meeting of the city council held on Oct. 10, Michelle Kennedy, former executive director of the IRC and current head of neighborhood development for the city said that the shelters would be in place “roughly the next 8-9 months as [the city] finalized permanent supportive housing.”

UPDATED (3/13, 5:15 p.m.): In an email from Kennedy sent after the initial publication of this article, she wrote, “The structures are approved for a maximum period of usage of 180 days. This is a state level regulation, not a City regulation.” However, the shelters were only up for a few months and some residents are being forced back onto the street.

“They only gave us three days’ notice,” said the resident.

According to Kristina Singleton, executive director of the IRC, all of the units are to be taken down by March 30 because the baseball field where the shelters are set up will be used in the spring for city programs.

(UPDATED 3/14, 11:10 a.m.): In an email on Monday evening to TCB, Singleton pushed back against the residents’ description of the program ending as “evictions.”

“When you discuss ‘eviction notices’ I believe you are referencing the reminder letter that each person receives, along with multiple group and one-on-one meetings to discuss transition plans,” Singleton said. “We work very hard to communicate with everyone involved in this partnership.”

During the Oct. 10 meeting, Assistant City Manager Nasha McCray posited that these programs would act as a stepping stone for participants to get off the streets and make it into permanent affordable housing.

“The goal of this is to help to transition those individuals into more permanent housing options during these months,” McCray said. “As individuals transition out, other individuals will be able to fill empty bed space.”

The first resident moved in on Dec. 23 and upon TCB’s first visit to the community in mid-January, 32 residents were living in the community. Recently, the number has risen to 55, according to Singleton.

During a March 7 city council meeting, Kennedy informed the council on some data points regarding the Doorway Project.

“Fifty-eight individuals can be housed there, and they’ve averaged roughly 53 per night,” Kennedy said. “And most of that has to do with folks transitioning either in or out.”

(UPDATED 3/14, 11:10 a.m.): In the same email from Monday, Singleton clarified the process for residents’ to secure housing.

“The Doorway program, from the start, was a temporary bridge program to protect residents from the elements during the winter months,” Singleton said. “IRC communicated that to each resident, their case managers, and each participant knows and signed an agreement upon move in.”

Where will people go next?

In an interview with TCB, Singleton said that while the Doorway Project’s main purpose was to provide shelter for participants through the winter season, it is not lost on them that it is an “opportunity to create better outcomes” for the people they serve. Singleton added that the IRC will continue to focus on getting as many people housed as they can between now and the end of March.

(UPDATED 3/14, 11:10 a.m.): In the Monday evening email, Singleton said that “to date, 57 percent of the people that have exited the program have not gone back to experiencing homelessness and we will not have a final number until the program is completed.”

One of the residents whom TCB spoke with on Friday said that they had a case manager through the IRC but that they were never able to connect with her because she didn’t come when he was around.

“People never get to see their case managers,” one of the residents said.

(UPDATED 3/14, 11:10 a.m.): Even so, Singleton said that “one of 3 qualified case managers has been onsite for the duration of this program from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. M-F with additional case managers available on the weekends.”

The Pallet homes community on March 10. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

UPDATED (3/13, 5:15 p.m.): In a follow-up email to TCB on March 13, after this article was first published, Kennedy clarified how residents work with case managers.

“Each individual placed at Doorway was referred by his or her case manager,” Kennedy said. “Case management of individuals at Doorway comes from a number of organizations within our community Continuum of Care. The role of the case manager is to be working through each individual’s unique case and assisting them with housing and other supportive services. Referral of an individual to Doorway is not and should not be a replacement for their ongoing case management.

“Each organization making a referral to Doorway was aware that this was an interim housing plan and that their responsibility for case management continued during the time an individual was placed at Doorway. In order to fully assess the plan for housing, you would need to speak to the case managers of the individuals residing at Doorway. Case managers for Doorway are from the following agencies: IRC, Greensboro Urban Ministry, Partners Ending Homelessness, Tiny House Community Development,  the ARC, Greensboro Housing Coalition, Triad Health Project. The IRC should be able to provide you a breakdown of how many individuals have case managers with each of these organizations. Simply put, housing placement is a component of case management, not a white flag winter emergency shelter plan.”

In a previous text message, Singleton did note that a total of 18 people have exited the program “for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to obtaining permanent housing, moving out of the area, family reunification, and inability to follow the agreed guidelines.”

According to interviews from February with residents, some of those living in the shelters were removed from the community because they were not following the program’s rules.

“The rules are: You’re not allowed to come here and drink… they don’t want any arguing,” one resident told TCB.

“The Doorway program participant agreement does require that no alcohol or illegal substance can be used or consumed on property and that creating an unsafe environment for other Doorway participants will result in an exit from the program,” Singleton explained.

In a text to Singleton, TCB requested that she specify how many of the 18 residents had been removed from the program due to an “inability to follow the agreed guidelines.” TCB did not receive a response.

Pushback and criticisms

Since the Pallet homes were installed in December, they have been met with a mix of support and criticism. While some residents said that they were happy to have a roof over their heads, community members who advocate on behalf of the homeless community said that the program was an ill-advised, temporary fix.

In a previous article by TCB, Del Stone with the Working-Class and Houseless Organizing Alliance in Greensboro called the shelters “a very, very small Band-Aid on a massive problem.” “We need housing to be actually invested in,” Stone said.

UPDATED (3/13, 5:15 p.m.): As reported by TCB, many of the amenities promised in the initial proposal for the Pallet community did not come to fruition until much later, or at all. When TCB reported on the community in mid-January, bathrooms and showers had been installed but were not operational. They have since been put up, but food is not available onsite.

According to one of the residents TCB spoke with on Friday, a community member brought home-cooked food to the shelters but one of the IRC staff onsite threw the food away. When asked why they did that, the staff member said it was because of “city rules.”

“How is that against city rules when they feed people downtown and in the parks?” asked one of the men.

Additionally, the residents said that they are given four bus passes to use every day to get food from other parts of town, but that only translates to two meals a day because each pass is good for one trip.

(UPDATED 3/14, 11:10 a.m.): Singleton told TCB that residents get six passes per day.

“We’re basically missing one meal per day,” said one of the residents. “I get more respect in prison.”

His friend concurred.

“I’ve been to jail before,” he said. “It’s not as bad as that, but it’s close.”

Unlike the Pallet shelters, the pilot program for the Safe Parking Initiative, also managed by the IRC, is slated to run for a full year. The initiative allows for people to park their cars in a secure lot to sleep. Once baseball season starts in the next few weeks, the city will have to find a new place for the Safe Parking Initiative. Singleton did not specify a timeline or a new location, noting that “the city will work with us on a different location.”

Asked on Friday about how they feel about the Pallet shelters as a whole, the residents gave mixed reviews.

One resident said that they were still thankful to be out of the cold and rain but that other homeless initiatives like the Regency Inn are a lot better.

“I came in here knowing that it was going to be a weird situation,” he said. “It’s something that no one has experienced before so I came in open minded. But a lot of the issue here is psychological. You wake up everyday and look out and see depression. It’s a constant reminder that you’re homeless.”

UPDATED (3/13, 5:15 p.m.): In the email to TCB on March 13, Kennedy said that the city has been reached out to by other municipalities looking to replicate the program including Raleigh, Wilmington and even a location in Rhode Island.

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