In 2019, North Carolina's homeless population was estimated at just over nine thousand or almost 9 people per 10,000 population. North Carolina, according to the US Dept. of Housing & Urban Development had the 35th highest homeless population of any state.
Of those, over a fourth were families with children, and nearly 25% of the homeless were living unsheltered.
Every January, a “Point in Time” (PIT) Count is done on a nationwide level by county. This year's count revealed 23 homeless people on the day it was done in Lincoln County, but John Hall, executive director of Hesed House, Lincoln County's only homeless shelter, says that figure was probably lower than might have been the case as winter progressed.
Hall and volunteer Michael Powers, who was one of the people who conducted the January PIT count, spoke to Lincoln County Commissioners in the public comments portion of Monday night's (May 17th) commissioners meeting.
Powers took issue with comments made by two commissioners and published in the local newspaper. One of them suggested that homeless people were being bused into Lincoln County because of Hesed House. The $10,000 the County gives Hesed House "is being used to purchase tents," she said, "...and Christian Ministry feeds them. She added she was tired of having to step over them "lying in their urine."
Another commissioner said, "These people don't want to do better; they just want to do their drugs and don't want any help except a tent."
As they did last year, commissioners voted at that April budget work session to remove the $10,000 requested by Hesed House from the County Budget. The vote was 4-1; Commissioner Cathy Davis cast the only 'no' vote.
County Manager Kelly Atkins said then that he was going to meet with Hall and with City Manager Richie Haynes and hoped to establish a task force to address the homeless issue.
Following Powers' comments Monday night (May 17th) Hall spoke. We thought his comments important enough that we asked his permission to include them in this article:
I stand before you tonight, as I have on several occasions in the past 3 years, I stand
here, as a voice for the homeless. These are the voices that go unheard, the voices of
the abandoned, of the sick, and the hurting. These are the voices of all ages, genders, races, and creeds. It is these voices that are often misrepresented by stereotypes, stigmas, and perceptions.
I am aware that at the last meeting, the board agreed to a motion not to fund Hesed
House of Hope until something is done about the homeless concerns in the community. I would like to take a few minutes to tell some of the ways the past funding has assisted in helping curb homelessness in Lincoln County.
Since October 2017, Hesed House’s Board of Directors have taken a step of faith to
remain open as a year-round shelter. With the support of our local churches, and
community, we fulfill our mission: to give the homeless a hand up and not a handout.
The shelter serves men, women, and children and gives them a safe, drug-free, and
alcohol-free facility to lay their heads at night. They are also fed a hot meal in the
evening and breakfast in the morning. In the first two years as a year-round shelter, we have served an average of 180 individuals per year. In the past three years, Hesed has created a community playground, nature trails and a community garden. Hesed, along with our local community partners, offers on-site educational classes, ranging from health/wellness classes, Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and mental health classes. Our most recent expansion in 2020 created 2 family suites, a new classroom, an intake office, laundry room, and a new handicap accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower.
The shelter has managed to thrive even during a global pandemic. At the beginning of
Covid-19, Lincoln County Emergency Management supplied tents to Hesed House, so
we allowed individuals to place those tents on our property for a short time as the virus was spreading. I am happy to announce we have not had any cases of Covid inside the shelter or in the tent community. We were, and remain, the designated agency in Lincoln County which is responsible for the quarantine of individuals, whether they are homeless or not homeless. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020, we have assisted Lincoln County with the transportation of 8 individuals, none of whom were homeless, from the hospital to the Days Inn. Through our partnership with Christian Ministry, the individuals were quarantined at the hotel and were fed lunch and dinner daily.
Since 2018, we have voluntarily, and I would like to repeat voluntarily, worked to achieveour vision to reach out with compassion, love, and kindness to people living in tents,under bridges, or in other places not meant for human habitation. As the Executive Director of Hesed House, I have been proactive in working with city officials, the Mayor, and the Police Chief. Most recently, in March of this year, I initiated a meeting with City manager, Ritchie Haynes, to address the tent communities. I notified landowners about individuals living in tents on their property without their knowledge. In each of these cases, and with the landowner’s approval, the tents were removed. From Generals Blvd down to Edwards’s street, residents from Hesed House and myself went into those abandoned encampment areas and cleaned them up.
Three years ago, when I took the Executive Director position at Hesed House of Hope,
there were 30-35 tents located between Walgreens down to the courthouse. These were mainly behind Hardees, DSS, House of Pizza, and under the bridge behind Walgreens. This takes constant effort, but today, with Hesed House’s proactive approach, there are now only 8-10 tents in that same stretch of area. I would like to highlight our most recent partnership with “Keep Lincoln County Beautiful, where the residents of Hesed House have participated in the cleanup efforts in the areas along the railroad tracks, specificallyrom Generals Blvd to Edwards Street.
The truth of the matter is, if there were an answer to homelessness, we would gladly
apply it to this issue. Homelessness and meeting the needs of all homeless, is not solely a Hesed House issue, nor is it a City issue, but instead it is a community issue. We have seen, most recently nearby in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where the side effects of tent encampment became a major issue. You may have seen the images on TV, showing 60-80 tents along Interstate 277, which resulted in a major health crisis with a large rat infestation. I do not want to see that same scene play out anywhere in our county. Thankfully, the City has shown resolve in the push back on tent communities, but my immediate concern is the possibility this may result in more tent sites in the county.
In closing, I stand here, not only as a voice for the homeless, but as an individual who
has 20 years of experience working directly with the homeless. Homelessness is a
difficult and complex issue in every town across our state and across the nation. Hesed House stands firm as a willing partner to address the concerns of community leaders, business owners, and landowners. I am willing to work with each of you in every way possible and I welcome the opportunity to assist with a homeless task force. I would like to thank each of you for listening and trying to understand the issues of homelessness.
Following Monday night's meeting, we asked County Manager Atkins about the work force he had suggested. He told us: "I am working with Richie Haynes to form a steering/task committee to better understand the homeless situation in Lincolnton/Lincoln County. When the funds were removed by the board, I felt it was necessary to have more information if we are to address the situation. This is not a city or county issue alone, it will take both the city and the county, along with many “outside” entities to understanding and addressing the dynamics of this situation in the city and county. I will not speak for the commissioners but truly believe they do want to make certain that any approved expenditures are positively addressing the situation. The committee will consist of about 20 or so people that are from many areas of government and private organizations. We hope to have our first meeting by the middle or end of June. It is possible the outcomes will be presented to both the city and county in the early fall of 2021."
Since the County has decided not to contribute to Hesed House, we asked Haynes if Hesed House is in the City Budget. They are. Haynes confirmed that the city of Lincolnton will again contribute $5,000 to Hesed House.