Jacobs to Strom: The Homeless Shelter Remains A Spasm in Chapel Hill’s Lower Back-side

Friday, July 13th, 2007

“The communication between the two governments within the same community has been spasmodic and not effective.”

— Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs after Chapel Hill Town Council member Bill Strom criticized the county this week for not working more closely with the town on finding new locations for a children’s museum, men’s homeless shelter and District Court.

Via the Chapel Hill News.

Bill kind of rattled on, as you can see [Granicus WMV], about the lack of coordination between the Town and the County – notably, in this case, working to re-site the Men’s Homeless Shelter.

What could’ve Bill done over his last eight years to make sure we don’t “spin our wheels” with the Orange County Board of Commissioners when the Town needs their help? Or that Council doesn’t end up with the BOCC using their “75 years” of collective political experience to “bury us 25 feet under in process and procedure” when we call for assistance?

His complaints about “burying” folks under “25 years of procedural manipulation” is ironic given Mayor Pro Tem Strom’s shelving of a request for real accountability on the Lot $$$5 development project.

Given the sad state of communications and cooperation between this Council and our current Board of Commissioners, Bill is right to call upon the Town and our Town Manager to create a Plan B for the Men’s Shelter’s relocation.

Eight, maybe ten years into the discussion, the BOCC continues to reject Homestead Road’s Southern Human Services Center as a viable location and we still don’t know where to site this necessary shelter. Yes, maybe we can wedge in a facility at the Town’s new Operation Center but, at least to me, that begins to verge on “warehousing” these folks out-of-sight in lieu of attacking the underlying problem head on.

By the way, Bill might have been a little testy because it was late and I had just reminded him that his grand obsession with the white elephant that is the Downtown Development Initiative’s Lot $$$5 project was going to hurt our community in order to bolster RAM Development’s bottom-line.

Whatever the reason, he’s had eight years to improve the lines of communications. I’ll be interested to hear how he proposes to improve the situation if he’s given another 4 years on Council.

They Count: 2007 Point in Time Orange County Homeless Census

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Cross-posted from Terri Buckner’s (TerriB’s) ‘blog LocalEcology

Orange County Homelessness Fact Sheet
February 2007

Total Number of Homeless People Counted in January 2007: 224

  • Homeless people staying in temporary shelter: 199
  • Homeless people without shelter (i.e. on the streets): 25
  • Homeless families: 23
  • Homeless people in families (including children): 60
  • Homeless children: 35
  • Homeless individuals (not in families): 164
  • Homeless people with a history of domestic violence: 23
  • Chronically homeless people: 71

These figures do not include numbers of people who are “doubled up,” that is without a legal residence of their own and temporarily staying with another person. Furthermore, the data does not account for people who are at-risk of homelessness for any reason including unemployment, foreclosure, eviction, chronic or sudden illness and domestic violence. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 40.5% of renters in Orange County pay 35% or more of household income toward rent which qualifies as at-risk of homelessness.

In Orange County:

  • A minimum wage earner (earning $5.15 per hour) must work 117 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, to afford the fair market rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom unit, which is $785 per month. An SSI recipient (receiving $603 monthly) can afford monthly rent of no more than $181, while the fair market rent for a one-bedroom is $603 (Out of Reach Report, 2006).
  • In order to afford FMR for a two-bedroom unit ($785), without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $2,617 monthly or $31,400 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $15.10 (Out of Reach Report, 2006).
  • In 2006, the Inter-Faith Council served 85,055 hot meals; provided 7,726 bags of groceries to 7,187 members of the community; granted 3,500 requests for food, cash, and help with utilities and other service needs representing more than 2,100 households; and offered 813 homeless individuals a place to sleep through its Community House and HomeStart program.
  • Neighbor House, Inc. distributed at least 17, 680 dinners to members of Northern Orange County through its Food for All Program in 2006. They are currently serving an average of 85 meals per night, four nights per week.
  • In 2005, the Community Initiative to End Homelessness received approximately $275,000 to provide permanent housing to homeless and disabled individuals or families. The funding is shared among OPC Area Program, the Chrysalis Foundation for Mental Health, Inter-Faith Council for Social Service and UNC Horizon’s. The CIEH applied for additional homeless assistance funding in 2006, but award letters have not been received as of 2/13/07.

I’m trying to find how the $275,000 in Community Initiative to End Homelessness funds were actually dispersed.

Council member Sally Greene has also been doing work (and blogging about it) with the ORANGE COUNTY PARTNERSHIP TO END HOMELESSNESS

Thanks Teri for shining a light into the shadows, please keep the posts coming.

Giving Kiosk Out, Panhandling Meters In?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Last year, the Downtown Partnership (DPC) commissioned a “giving kiosk” for Downtown. Callie Warner, my neighbor and metalsmith, designed what Liz Parham, Direcor of the DPC, described in this May 16th, 2006 Chapel Hill News column [PDF] as an “economic development tool”:

This past week the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership carried a concept proposal for a privately funded “Giving Kiosk” to the Town Council for review. The purpose of the Giving Kiosk is to provide downtown visitors with an alternative to giving money to panhandlers by directing their giving to human service agencies that provide beneficial services to those that are in need in the downtown area; to educate the public on the services that are needed and those that are offered; and to educate the public on how social and behavioral issues are hindering the economic vitality of downtown and our community’s growth.

The Chapel Hill Town Council saw this more as an “art project” – introducing a bureaucratic muddle as local curmudgeon Roland Giduz noted last June

This plan is to install a giving kiosk is as an alternative to donating to panhandlers. It will be completely privately financed. It won’t cost taxpayers a penny and should relieve the popularly perceived image of beggars harming the aura of Chapel Hill’s public shopping area.

An anonymous donor has offered to pay the $17,000 construction cost of building and installing this small sidewalk structure downtown. As tried and used elsewhere in similar circumstances, it offers people the option to contribute to designated charities instead of enabling panhandlers. The Chapel Hill Town Council recently considered this proposal, seemed to like it, and commissioned a local artist to submit a design. The resulting design by Callie Warner shows a securely- built rectangular structure, simply roofed and with slots for contributions. It is purely a functional kiosk, both in design and appearance.

As all too often happens when something is caught in the maw of bureaucracy, the kiosk idea has been shoved aside ‘til it can be considered as art, rather than as a functional structure. It now awaits a decision — yet-to-be considered or approved – as to whether it is art instead of a simple structure for its intended purpose. Until then there’ll be no giving kiosk and no donation of it or to it.

In the past, I’ve been critical of some of the harsher aspects of Denver’s Give a Better Way campaign , echoing our local Council champion of homelessness causes Sally Greene’s concerns :

Narayan thus argues, and I agree, that a concern that the presence of panhandlers in a downtown district discourages foot-traffic and therefore undermines the economic health of downtown is not a morally valid reason for the further regulation of panhandling.

On the other hand, the impulse behind the idea of the giving kiosk had much to recommend itself. I think it represented a genuine wish to be helpful, to reach out as a community to help those in need. The trouble is that we don’t have natural connections with panhandlers; they appear to us as strangers, one at a time, seemingly cut off from the community. We really don’t know what a pandhandler will do with the dollar we give him, and we have reason to fear the worst. The initiatives that the Downtown Outreach Work Group is about to embark on are potentially good ones–as long as they include a recognition that in the end we cannot control the lives or wills of others, that not every panhandler is dishonest or deceitful, that there is genuine need staring us in the face. (The Denver program’s home page is pretty harsh: a picture of an upturned palm, inscribed, “Please help. Don’t give.”)

Yes, the impulse to give, to help is commendable and should be nurtured.

That’s why I’m willing to follow Denver’s lead while Council works out the finer points of art, and suggest we trial Denver’s practical approach of using recycled parking meters to collect funds:

The city of Denver has recycled old parking meters to help in the fight against homelessness.

The old parking meters have been placed at various locations in downtown, including Skyline Park.

The idea is to encourage people to put the money into the parking meters instead of giving to panhandlers. Money raised from the meters will go to organizations fighting homelessness.

Mayor John Hickenlooper said the city’s 10 year plan to end homelessness is working.

“Denver’s 10 year plan to end homelessness, what we call Denver’s road home, has really become a national model,” Hickelooper said. “I think we’ve had the greatest success in getting the whole community to buy in, to believe this is something we can tackle as a community.”

Officials unveiled 36 of the homeless meters on Monday.

Denver’s CBS4 Mar. 5th, 2007

The lede of this story – “help[ing] the fight against homelessness” – highlights yet again an unfortunate conflation between panhandling and homelessness.

They’re not equivalent.

I hope that it is a distinction the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership Work Group on Homeless shares as they move forward.

Greene on Ending Chronic Homelessness in Orange County

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

Council member Sally Greene is passionately pursuing a ten year plan to end local homelessness. Her participation, along with other valiant volunteers, gives me hope that the goal is achievable.

Tonight, she reports on the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ efforts.

Of note, they’ve agreed to “emphasize the chronically homeless in our planning (but not at the expense of current efforts to help all the homeless).”

As documented by Sally, folks chronically homeless account for the lionshare of service consumption. Dealing compassionately with this key segment of the homeless population not only honors our better angels but makes excellent fiscal sense – strained resources can be freed up to address the larger population.

There’s more work for the OCPEH but this difficult decision has significantly advanced their cause.

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