Regional Forum to Examine Homelessness
Moore County's homeless population is not obvious, but on any one night, the number can range anywhere from 33 to 206.
And that's not including people whose plight slips through the cracks. Those working on the issue say it is difficult to count the homeless in a largely rural area.
"In Moore County, they're not visible, but that doesn't mean they're not here," said Susan Bellew, executive director of Family Promise of Moore County, the nonprofit organization that provides temporary care in church facilities for homeless women and children.
Bellew said her agency has maintained a waiting list for two or three years for the limited number of slots available at local churches, which take turns providing overnight housing for homeless women and their children.
Service at Family Promise is limited to women and children, and the statistics collected by the nonprofit represent a small percentage of the larger picture for Moore County.
The issue has become so serious that Moore County has joined three neighboring counties to form a new partnership to deal with homelessness. It is known as ARMM, for Anson, Richmond, Montgomery and Moore counties. A meeting will be held Wednesday in Richmond County to offer a forum for discussion on closing gaps in service to the homeless.
Tim Emmert, community development planner with the Moore County Department of Planning and Community Development, chairs ARMM. He has been working on the homelessness issue in Moore County for more than a year.
"We want to hear from a broader range of people in the community," Emmert said. "Nonprofits, governments, private businesses, religious organizations, educational institutions, public health departments, law enforcement, support groups - the list of who can make positive contributions to this issue is lengthy."
Sources of statistics include several nonprofits and institutions that keep tabs on people and their addresses. Figures are difficult to nail down, because they vary from day to day and are subject to duplication. However, workers in the field estimate that the situation is not over-reported because many homeless people simply go unnoticed.
On a recent night, 33 individuals were identified as homeless in Moore County, according to Bellew. But they were the obvious people - people living on the street or temporarily housed in shelters. They were people receiving assistance from Family Promise, Friend to Friend and Sandhills Community Action Program's transitional housing program.
Volunteers working the MANNA! soup kitchen ask where participants slept the previous night, and they learn about other non-shelter sleeping places. The more common answers are cars, abandoned buildings and tents.
"It's hard to find the unsheltered here," Bellew said.
MANNA!, which stands for Moore Alliance Nourishing Neighbors Amen!, is a mobile soup kitchen that serves more than 600 meals weekly at seven sites across the county. Donald Barcus, a founder of the nonprofit, was recently recognized for volunteer service by the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.
The biggest figures are produced by the Moore County school system and Sandhills Community College, which must keep records on addresses of students. A recent compilation of those figures showed that 206 individuals had been identified as either "precariously housed" or "imminently housed."
The precarious designation means that their housing is at risk or in doubt. The other designation is a new one referring to people who must be out of their existing housing within seven days. Of that total, 127 were children.
Moore County does not have a homeless shelter, but services are available to individuals with special needs.
Family Promise, established several years ago as Sandhills Interfaith Hospitality Network, provides housing to homeless families for a week at a time. The families spend their nights in church facilities. During the day, they receive assistance with acute needs, such as a search for permanent housing and jobs. Volunteers transport children to schools and day care and assist adults with other needs.
The program has won acclaim from the community but is limited in scope.
This week, Family Promise is housing three families, consisting of three mothers and eight children. In January, Family Promise averaged housing 11 individuals weekly.
As soon as one family leaves the program, Bellew notifies the next family on the list. These days there is no such thing as a vacancy.
When Family Promise first opened, it went some weeks without any homeless families accommodated, and a waiting list was rare.
That all changed when the price of gasoline climbed dramatically a few years ago. That's when people could no longer afford to drive to work, and friends and co-workers could not afford to provide rides.
"We saw the spike here when gas prices skyrocketed," she said. "It came with the whole economic downturn."
Bellew said the situation has just worsened as the jobless rate continues to soar.
"We have a heckuva time helping people find jobs. It's becoming more challenging to find jobs and affordable housing," Bellew said.
Friend to Friend, the nonprofit that provides emergency housing for families caught up in domestic violence, provides temporary assistance, but its service is also confined to specific situations.
Fayetteville is the closest municipality with a program clearly identifiable as a homeless shelter.
Emmert said the ARMM program is charged by North Carolina's unit of the Housing and Urban Development Department to count and coordinate services to the homeless in the four-county region.
The March 3 meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Cole Auditorium on the campus of Richmond County Community College. After the group assesses need and capacity, members will discuss ways to find shared solutions to unmet needs, according to Emmert. He says those solutions will be discussed, voted upon and incorporated into the group's yearly application to the state for new funding.
"With over 100 members from our four-county region and access to annual funding we may be a new group, but we are well-positioned to make a difference," Emmert said.
Anyone interested in learning more before attending the Wednesday meeting may visit the ARMM Web site at www.ncceh.org/bos/armm or contact Wanda Feldt, interim membership chair, for a welcome packet at wandaf@sandhillscen ter.org.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story