One of the common criticisms of the Inter-Faith Council’s (IFC) proposed Community House site is that the Homestead area of Chapel Hill already hosts more than it’s fair (“a four letter word for responsible growth”) share of social services.

Is that the case?

The IFC and UNC’s School of Social Work put together this map highlighting many of the social services throughout Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

This contrasts with a more local snapshot of services prepared by the folks at A Better Site – an advocacy group asking for a more transparent siting process.

The Community House facility, as currently proposed, will serve two purposes.

The primary goal is to house men as they transition from a state of dependency to independence within a highly structured program. Entrance into this program is selective, adherence to its strictures mandatory, monitoring compliance integral.

The secondary function of the facility is to serve as an emergency men’s shelter. It is this secondary function which has caused, at least from what I can tell, concern within the wider community.

While Orange County is responsible for housing folks in emergencies, that responsibility has been IFC’s to shoulder the last few decades. The IFC currently operates a shelter along with a soup kitchen (and other similar immediate services) in the old Chapel Hill Town Hall on the corner of Rosemary and Columbia streets. The long term plan was to move the soup kitchen down to Carrboro and move the emergency shelter out of the old Town Hall.

As I’ve commented before, while I support the mission of the IFC, find the goals of Community House more than laudable, it is the emergency shelter component of the IFC proposal I find most difficult to accept. The logistical issues surrounding moving folks back and forth from the shelter, managing the access to the shelter, etc. seem to make this site unsustainable. I’d like to see IFC rethink this part of the plan and possibly consider combining, as it is now, the new food service facility in Carrboro with an emergency shelter component. If not that, at least split the emergency shelter out of the current plan.

Of course, meeting the needs of those struggling the most is not and never was the obligation of the IFC. It’s incredible that Chapel Hill has such a caring, committed organization that stepped into the vacuum created by a dearth of governmental attention.

In fact, both Carrboro’s and the County’s elected folks continue to sit on the sidelines, quietly keeping out of these discussions, showing little or no political leadership in meeting this joint community obligation.

We are poised to hear more of folks concerns as the Community House initiative starts to move forward.

Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall, the Town will host a Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter followed by a meeting by the Planning Board Shelter Committee Aug. 19th, 5:30pm, HR conference room Town Hall.

The first meeting will provide a current overview of where the Community House proposal is within the Town’s development review process.

The second meeting, which on the face of it, appears tangential to the approval of various stipulations influencing the construction of Community House, might actually be the more important of the two.

The Council, loathe to adopt specific siting criteria prior to the IFC’s request for a special use permit (SUP) asked the Planning Board to create general criteria for siting shelters within Chapel Hill. This bit of maneuvering created a bit of smokescreen which lent nothing to greater transparency (given the rocky start of this project, it’s troubling, even to supporters, that Council missed an opportunity to provide clarity). The Planning Board initially kicked the request back to Council citing the “vagueness” of what they were being asked to do. Tossing the shelter hot potato back, Council suggested a few exploratory paths of consideration.

The sub-text of the discussions between this Planning Board sub-committee and the public, and quite possibly their work product, will influence further the direction the Community House project takes, which makes Aug. 19th the more interesting of the two public meetings to me.

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