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More than Shelter

Sharon Coulter-James

The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) is proposing to build a transitional housing facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chapel Hill that will help men who are experiencing homelessness to change the course of their lives. The Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness supports these plans and believes that the facility will make a significant contribution in helping to prevent and end homelessness in our community.

IFC has provided many valuable services and programs to Orange County citizens for decades, including the Community House emergency shelter that has operated in the old municipal building in Chapel Hill since 1985. IFC’s need to open a new transitional housing facility is twofold: first, the Town of Chapel Hill wants to use the Old Municipal Building to satisfy other public needs; and secondly, the IFC program has simply outgrown the space. Walking through the building on any given day confirms that the residents and staff are living and working in cramped quarters. There is no outdoor space such as a yard or garden, and the indoor space is much too small to accommodate the housing, kitchen, clinic, office and other spaces for services that are required.

IFC’s new facility will be a 52-bed transitional housing program for homeless men—similar to IFC’s HomeStart program for women and children—providing long-term housing and a continuum of services to residents. The goal of the new facility is to promote the independence and self-reliance of its residents by providing them with a safe and stable living environment as well as a broad range of services to help them obtain employment and permanent housing.

The experience of IFC and similar organizations teaches that emergency shelters get people off of the streets, but transitional housing transforms lives. Each resident of the new facility will develop a set of individualized goals and obtain the services they need to achieve them. Residents who are able to work will receive assistance with education, job training and job searches and those who are disabled will be referred to appropriate service providers. Social workers will help the men apply for affordable or subsidized housing. Residents will clean and maintain the building, work in the community gardens and help enforce house policies. Senior residents will help mentor new arrivals. Trained staff and numerous credentialed volunteers will provide health care, counseling, case management and support to the residents. It is access to these vital social services within a transitional housing program that will transform these men’s lives and reduce homelessness within our community. Without them, homeless men and women have little opportunity to start their lives anew.

An example of a successful program similar to the one proposed by the IFC is located in Charlotte. In 2002, plans for McCreesh Place—an apartment complex for disabled men living in the city’s shelters—were unveiled amidst strong neighborhood opposition. Eight years later, many of those neighbors are pleased to support an expansion of McCreesh Place and are, in fact, participating in its groundbreaking ceremony. They have found that the formerly homeless men are good neighbors who volunteer for trash pickups at nearby parks and pass out community association newsletters, and the facility is an asset to the neighborhood that hosts community association meetings and is home for the Neighborhood Watch.

The Partnership to End Homelessness believes that IFC’s new transitional housing facility will be a good neighbor an asset to the community, and will help men overcome their personal challenges for finding jobs and permanent housing. We consider the IFC to be an essential partner in our work to prevent and end homelessness in Orange County and look forward to strengthening our collaboration with them to achieve these goals.

Sharon Coulter-James is chair of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.

  1. Mark Peters

    Letter published in the Carrboro Citizen on July 14th, 2010:

    Mrs. Coulter-James’ recent editorial (“More than shelter,” 6/16/10) failed to properly describe IFC’s project and also made invalid comparisons. The IFC-proposed shelter near Homestead Park is beside two large preschools, and McCreesh Place in Charlotte is not. IFC’s single men’s facility will take drunk and high men on 200 nights per year and discharge them at 7 a.m. each morning, and McCreesh Place does not. Charlotte’s facilities appear to be able to serve all homeless clients, including sex offenders, and IFC’s facility cannot serve sex offenders, who comprise 20 percent of the homeless population in some cities, due to school proximity.

    IFC’s facility over-concentrates ALL overnight at-risk facilities in Orange County in one-fifth of a square mile around Homestead Park. Charlotte spreads its similar facilities out in accordance with its ordinance, which plainly states, “The public has an interest in assuring that a concentration of homeless shelters be minimized.”

    Mrs. Coulter-James also failed to point out that both Charlotte and Chapel Hill are implementing “business improvement districts” like many other communities documented by the Department of Justice, where the very first step is to move homeless shelters out of downtown and away from where the jobs, shopping and eating are.

    Let’s make honest comparisons and let facts guide our decision on IFC’s special-use permit.

    Chapel Hill