Moore County is not isolated from the societal issues that all communities wrestle with. Chief among those issues is the matter of homelessness and the myriad complexities associated with it.

You do not have to work hard to find small encampments here and there, often just off the side of a road but within walking distance of businesses. There in these encampments, you’ll find a small clutch of people under stretched-out tarps or huddled in tents or around campfires.

The homeless also include individuals who, having no fixed home of their own, sleep in their cars, stay with relatives or crash with a friend for a few days before moving on to another friend’s place. And in the warmer months, it is not unheard of to see someone spending the night on a park bench, or stretched out on a mat or sleeping bag behind a business off U.S. 1 or in downtown Southern Pines and Aberdeen.

Advocates for the homeless — the school social workers, the church outreach members, the altruistic volunteers — serve these folks the best they can, offering hot meals, rides, spiritual guidance or opportunities to clean up or get medical care.

Unlike the larger urban cities in North Carolina, Moore County has no coordinated support infrastructure, especially for single homeless men and women. The nonprofit group Family Promise has a home that offers temporary shelter for women with children, but that’s about it.

Is there more to be done? Absolutely. Will it be easy? Absolutely not.

Change Is Incremental

Homelessness is not just about lacking a permanent residence. Often bundled with it are issues around substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse, mental illness, financial problems. We’d have solved homelessness with group shelters long ago were it not for these complex factors that cannot be divorced from this discussion.

Individuals have tried for years to create temporary overnight shelters. Let’s be honest: For years this has not fit the story we like to tell others about our community: We are a golf, vacation and retirement center, not an urban core with homeless, however small the number.

After years of reluctance from our towns to act, the Southern Pines Town Council agreed to allow homeless shelters, though only in a commercial district. Local resident Fritz Healy and his wife, Lynne, lobbied hard for this project, even using their own money to establish a foundation to run a shelter. Still, no luck.

“It was swimming uphill,” Healy said.

Disappointment would be easy for the homeless advocates. Yet we are closer toward a solution than perhaps ever before.

Coordination is Paramount

First, there are more people, groups and churches advocating for the homeless today. That’s a marked change from prior years. And recent stories in The Pilot about the homeless issue have sparked two community meetings with more to come. As it is, more than 50 people, including Moore Sheriff Ronnie Fields, turned out at the meeting last week to discuss the matter and hear of possible solutions. A newly formed committee is led by Cliff Brown, a retired sergeant with the state Department of Corrections and former president of the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

One man with a plan is Gary Richardson, CEO of New Life Christian Ministries of the Carolinas, a Rockingham religious organization that turned a vacant Richmond County middle school into a place for unsheltered people. Talking to the Moore group last week, Richardson said a bit of creativity, hard work and luck can get a shelter closer to a reality here.

Again, creating a shelter will just be the start. The real challenge will be coordination with social services, career counselors, health care workers, police and clergy to address the associated issues around homelessness. None of that will be easy.

But advocates should take heart. We’re further along than perhaps we’ve ever been in addressing this fundamental societal issue.

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