After months of development and legal maneuvering, an organization has launched to address homelessness in Moore County.
The nonprofit TEAM Workz (the first part of the name is an acronym for Together Everyone Accomplishes More) was founded by Cliff Brown, a retired sergeant with the state Department of Corrections and former president of the State Employees Association. Brown said The Pilot’s report on local homeless encampments stirred interest in the plight of unsheltered residents, prompting him to convene a series of community meetings that led to the formation of TEAM Workz.
One of those meetings was attended by Fritz Healy, a beer wholesaler who in 2015 tried unsuccessfully to establish a homeless shelter in Southern Pines. Healy wanted to open the county’s first facility for homeless men, but the privately funded project was met with resistance from local officials.
Following months of public debate, the Southern Pines Town Council voted to allow a homeless shelter in the town’s general business district. It was a hollow victory for Healy, who was unable to find anyone willing to rent out a suitable building in the authorized area.
The Gem Foundation, a nonprofit he had established to run the shelter before the project foundered, had been dormant for years when Healy offered to donate the foundation’s bylaws and other assets to Brown’s organization. Sharlene Gilmer Anderson, a Pinehurst lawyer, volunteered to orchestrate the transfer, which allowed TEAM Workz to secure its nonprofit status sooner than had it gone through the application process.
A website, teamworkz.org, was created by Oakland eMedia of West End. Novae Design Group, a Southern Pines business, designed the organization’s logo.
Brown attended grant-writing workshops at Richmond Community College and began soliciting support from officials like Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields, who said Wednesday that his agency is committed to “helping in any way we can.”
TEAM Workz must now install a board of directors, a legal requirement of the organization’s donated bylaws. Brown said David Bruton, a retired pediatrician who co-founded the Moore Free and Charitable Clinic, and Tony Price, the clinic’s longtime CEO, have both agreed to serve on the board.
“We’ve cleared the hurdles that held us back from being operational,” Brown said. “Now we can open a bank account, get donations in and start actually doing things for people.”
During a meeting Tuesday at Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, members of the organization’s advisory board discussed various projects that will be tackled by subcommittees in the coming months. One of the teams is expected to recruit volunteers to conduct next year’s point-in-time count, an undertaking that could generate valuable data for nonprofits and government agencies across the Sandhills.
Held on a single evening every January, the point-in-time count is designed to provide a “statistically reliable snapshot” of homeless populations across the state. But a Pilot investigation found that unsheltered people are not being tallied in Moore County, where encampments for the homeless were identified in Southern Pines, Aberdeen and Pinehurst.
Because no effort has been made to determine how many unsheltered residents are living here, there is no way of knowing the true size of the county’s homeless population. Findings from the point-in-time count could be used to bolster requests for grants and services that benefit the homeless.
One of Brown’s long-range goals is to help establish a traditional homeless shelter in Moore County. While the county is home to a handful of transitional housing programs, they only accept single mothers or women recovering from substance abuse.
“I think we all realize that opening a shelter is going to take many people coming together,” he said, “and it’s going to take time.”
Brown was to visit the Place of Grace homeless shelter in Rockingham on Friday with Jon Rachels, a community organizer who serves on the TEAM Workz advisory committee, and Todd Mannes of the Moore County Sheriff’s Office. They are researching the facility, a repurposed middle school, as a potential model for Moore County.