Featured photo: The IRC’s sign against a drizzling cloudy sky on the morning of June 27. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

On the morning of June 27, an ambulance wailed outside the Interactive Resource Center, a shelter meant to help people experiencing homelessness in Greensboro. While EMS personnel helped a homeless resident in need, city officials held a press conference in the parking lot across the street regarding increased 911 calls to the center and “multiple complaints” from surrounding business owners.

“The main goal for today is safety, and responding to our community,” Assistant City Manager Trey Davis told TCB and other local media.

The city “completely understands some of the frustrations” of business owners, Davis said.

“We feel like we are obligated to respond to their complaints.”

The IRC, which was formerly just a day center, recently decided to offer their services 24/7, a move that was supported by more than $600,000 in city and county funding, TCB reported in January.

The move was meant to help the increasing population of people experiencing homelessness, a trend that mirrors national data. According to federal data, more than 650,000 people were unhoused in 2023, a 12 percent increase compared to 2022. In Guilford County, local officials counted 34 unsheltered people last year during the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count which attempts to count the number of people who are unhoused in a municipality. According to the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development (HND) Director Michelle Kennedy, that number has spiked to 244 this year.

“When you look at a jump like that, that should tell you what we’re seeing from a people-experiencing-homelessness standpoint in our community and how really deep those kinds of issues have become,” Kennedy said in January.

And more people experiencing instability and lack of housing has correlated with increased calls for service at the IRC.

In the last year, there were 590 events that required emergency services or police presence at the IRC between Jan. 1, 2023 and Jan. 16. But between Jan. 17 — the day the IRC went 24/7 — and May 22 of this year, 642 events occurred.

Since January, multiple assaults have occurred at the building and in the surrounding area according to local crime data. Law enforcement has been dispatched to the IRC to respond to disputes, larceny, trespassing, reported weapons and assaults, including a stabbing.  On May 8, GPD was summoned to the IRC because someone was “yelling” and making “threats to kill people.” Four days later, GPD responded to a call regarding the discharge of a firearm. A vehicle was shot; there were no injuries. On May 16, a fight broke out between two women; one was stabbed. Ten GPD units were called to the scene. 

Calls for service from the IRC “significantly” tie up the city’s resources, Davis said, noting that one of the city’s reasons for visiting was to “determine” how they can “address a continued increase in call volume.”

During a city council meeting on May 7, Davis stated that the IRC has become a “nuisance.”

Davis added that public safety teams who respond to the IRC have notified the city that they “feel unsafe in responding [to the IRC] without police presence.”

Following the meeting, the IRC’s director Kristina Singleton sent an email to city leaders on May 10. 

“When we speak of the shortcomings of the IRC – conversations we enter into with the humility of knowing we can’t solve it alone — we implore you to enter into them informed by the sheer volume of need and of our good faith efforts to address it,” Singleton wrote.

“What we’ve been doing is trying to work with IRC as our partners to allow them an opportunity to address some of those issues,” Davis said at the city council meeting on May 7. “We don’t have control over what they do and how they operate. We can only provide suggestions.”

But by late June, the conversations had taken a more serious turn.

An ambulance was called to help a homeless resident at the Interactive Resource Center. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

More clients lead to more calls

Davis noted that the city will be making “action requests” of the IRC in the coming months to “identify a solution” to make the location safer.

The city will be “providing resources” to unhoused people as well as business owners, such as contacts in the city such as code enforcement.

“What we need to see collectively is a plan,” Davis told Singleton in a conversation outside the shelter on June 27.

Davis told Singleton that the “calls have got to decrease, and the calls from neighboring businesses have got to decrease.”

In her May 10 email to city leaders, Singleton noted that the IRC has seen “record numbers” of unduplicated guests. In April they served 979 individuals — 208 more people than they did in March and 444 more people than they did the same time last year.

Singleton told TCB that the city’s visit on Thursday morning was not a surprise, and she expressed frustration. 

“We just really want to ensure that we are still able to serve the increasing masses of people experiencing homelessness, without interruption,” Singleton said. “We’re doing everything that we can to be able to do that.”

One of those local business owners who are frustrated with the IRC is Phillip Marsh, a frequent critic of the organization. Marsh owns Rockers Print Shop near the IRC and is at odds with the organization’s administration. 

“It seems that people kind of hide in the back while everyone kind of runs amok on the property and in the area,” Marsh told TCB in an interview on June 27.

Marsh claims that when people are kicked out of the shelter, IRC staff “dump all of their belongings in the middle of the street.” Marsh said that he and other business owners call the city’s field operations to clean it up, but he doesn’t want to do that because “if someone is experiencing homelessness, more likely than not that would be all of their life belongings and we didn’t want it put in the trash.” 

In a text to TCB, Singleton denied Marsh’s allegations, writing, “We are not able to store guest’s belongings for them, however we do not dump belongings of people experiencing homelessness onto the street.”

City funding made it possible for the IRC to go 24/7, and that’s what concerns Marsh.

“The city, without any regard for the community, has increased services at the IRC without increasing capacity,” he said. “When you have a multitude of services piled on an organization that isn’t doing the basics well, you get a perfect storm like this.”

Marsh thinks that there need to be “permanent changes” at the IRC and that its location needs to change.

“The IRC has to go,” Marsh said. “They’ve never been good neighbors.”

Still, the IRC is one of the only places of respite for people experiencing homelessness in Greensboro as the population increases.

Police presence at the parking lot across from the Interactive Resource Center. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Unhoused people face intersecting issues

Outside the IRC, one homeless resident named Thomas told TCB that he has been unhoused since February and has utilized services at the IRC since April.

His experiences at the IRC have “for the most part, been pretty good, but they need more resources.”

“You’ve got people in here that need their mental health addressed,” Thomas said. “I feel like they need a nurse on staff. We only have one microwave and there’s over 200 people here. They opened this place 24 hours so that people wouldn’t be in [Center City Park].” 

In October, TCB reported on how powerful individuals who contribute to the park’s management complained to city leaders about the optics of the park, a place where many unhoused people congregate to sit in the shade and use the park’s restrooms. These complaints were followed by new signs in the park displaying rules, such as bans on charitable distribution, panhandling and large personal belongings in the park.

At the IRC, “ambulances are coming in all the time,” Thomas said. “That’s why I said I feel like we need a nurse 24 hours here. A lot of people have got medical conditions. We’ve got people with no legs. They need to be in nursing facilities, really.”

Does Thomas feel safe at the IRC?

“Sometimes,” he said.

One of the city’s teams that answer a lot of calls to the IRC is the Behavioral Health Response Team, a mental health co-response unit staffed with counselors and police officers. 

BHRT’s Team Lead Erin Williams said that the IRC is a “regular spot” that the team visits around 3-5 times per week because it’s where “a lot” of their “unsheltered clients are going during the day.”

Dana Daughtry is a BHRT team member who has personally experienced what unhoused people at the IRC are going through. That’s why he got into this work.

“I experienced homelessness myself for 15 years because of my crack addiction,” Daughtry shared.

After a few years of being clean and getting a job with the city street cleaning and doing maintenance work, Daughtry knew that he “wanted to give back.” He started developing relationships with people experiencing homelessness while he worked downtown, people who are “judicially-challenged” and “suffering with addiction.”

The city saw how he was building a rapport with those in need, and that led him to work with BHRT. Sometimes Daughtry helps take people to places such as Social Services.

“They need somebody to take them to these places,” Daughtry explained. “Sometimes case management here might be already full…and that’s where we may be able to come in and help provide that service also.”

Being unhoused intersects with many other things, explained Williams. That includes mental health and substance use concerns. That’s where the team comes in to assist.

A sign that reads:
is posted outside one of the buildings near the Interactive Resource Center. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Problems persist

When the IRC changed their hours to 24/7 access, more people flocked to the center, including whole families experiencing homelessness. But that created an issue of space.

On May 7, IRC leadership informed the city that they would “no longer be able to accept families,” according to an email from Assistant City Manager Trey Davis to city leaders, and as of May 8, families were no longer allowed to spend the night at the building. As of May 15, they no longer serve families during day services. The organization is also not admitting any new families to the Safe Parking Program, an onsite program they receive annual city funding for that allows unhoused people to safely sleep in their cars in a monitored parking lot overnight.

Despite the new rules, some people who come to the IRC for overnight stay end up having to sleep on the floor. Sleeping arrangements are “open dorm,” Thomas explained. That means that some people “gotta sleep on the floor.” In an email to city leaders on May 30, Shawn Isenbach, the operations manager for Downtown Greensboro, Inc., wrote about the living situation at the IRC. One homeless resident, Lisa, who had just been released from the hospital, has been sleeping on the shelter’s “hard floor.” This has been exacerbating her health issues, Isenbach wrote. 

“Her discharge instructions recommend a carb-modified diet, but how can she adhere to that when she’s unsure of her next meal’s source or timing?” he added.

During the May 7 city council meeting, city councilmember and DGI President Zack Matheny stated that the city has “gotta hold some people accountable.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan stepped in to defend the IRC, saying that blaming the IRC is “kind of unfair because they are expected to take everybody who walks through the door.”

“I don’t know that we are in a position where we can really question,” Vaughan added, to which Matheny responded, “With all due respect, we fund them.”

This isn’t the IRC’s first brush with criticism. For the last two years, the organization has headed a temporary housing program called the Doorway Project in which 30 Pallet shelters set up at Pomona Park around four miles from downtown away from the IRC’s resources. This past year, the program kept people out of the cold between November and March. Between the cost of the shelters themselves and hiring security and case workers, the program has cost the city around $1 million over the last two years. During the first year, the program was heavily criticized by people who stayed there, as well as local activists and city leaders. 

In February, Singleton, whose annual salary is $94,669, per 2023 tax records, was charged with larceny. After the news of Singleton’s charges broke, the IRC’s board of directors released a statement noting that the shoplifting “happened during her personal time and in no way impacted the IRC, its operations, its mission, or its finances.” 

Despite its problems, IRC patrons like Thomas say that they need the center to continue to exist.

“I don’t want them to close this place down, people need this place,” he said. “It can be run better.”

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