BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Iredell Homeless Coalition observed its first year of community service during its December meeting by sharing success stories from the previous year and information about upcoming holiday projects to help this vulnerable population.
The coalition works to “encourage each other and share information about the impact we are having as we assist the homeless community,” said Pam Navey, coalition chair and community resource coordinator at the Statesville Police Department.
On many nights Navey puts out calls to coalition members for help for an individual, and that person is off the street in as little as 30 minutes. “It’s amazing. It’s not about handouts. It’s about giving people opportunities and direction to take the next step,” she said.
Captain Bryan Johnson’s January request of Navey for solutions other than enforcement action to address the root causes of homelessness was the catalyst for the formation of the homeless coalition.
“Enforcement can only do so much,” said Navey, “so our wonderful community kicked in.”
Before the coalition formed, Johnson investigated complaints in the Crossroads Shopping Center about trespassing, panhandling, and other problems and charged the offenders, but enforcement was not solving the problems as they often returned to the same activity after charges were filed.
Johnson expressed appreciation for the huge response from the coalition to help the estimated 30 homeless people in the Crossroads area. Whenever people needed rides, bus tickets, food, shelter, or other help, the coalition members have stepped in, often within an hour.
Last year Johnson issued 30 trespass letters. This year Johnson, with coalition help, focused on getting these folks what they need to get off and stay off the streets. “There is lots of collaborative help for those who will accept help,” said Johnson.
Navey noted that some homeless people have chronic mental health or substance use issues and will not accept help. Others just prefer that lifestyle.
Goodwill’s Wendy Martin noted that a large portion of the homeless that she assists on a daily basis also suffer from mental health, addiction, or poverty and often have criminal records that prevent them from getting employment or housing.
Martin assists anyone who comes in for help at their Crossroads location, providing a respite from the cold, phone charges, food, tents, and clothing. She also offers help with getting employment or referrals to shelter.
Martin spoke of a homeless couple whose car was repossessed in the Goodwill parking lot. The coalition worked together to provide a hotel room, food, and bus tickets back home to their out-of-state family.
She also commended members who stepped up to get a person to an out-of-county court date. The coalition addresses each case and unique situation as it arises. “If I have a crisis at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, I know coalition members will help at any time,” Martin added.
Praising the coalition, Navey said, “Different people come together to meet their needs. The excitement of this group is that it quickly responds to individual situations.”
Donald Hicks of the Statesville Housing Authority said the lack of housing for the homeless and those re-entering after incarceration has been a real issue. However, SHA has been allowed to shift four units to this effort, in collaboration with the probation office, Integrated Care of Greater Hickory – Statesville, and Fifth Street Ministries.
The project will create eight bedrooms, some with bunk beds, to provide shelter as well as wrap-around support, services, and substance use treatment as needed to help them get their lives back on track. The first participants will arrive in January.
Darius Hopkins of Fifth Street’s Path House said the “teamwork of the coalition is impeccable.” He cited churches coming in to decorate the Path House “to make sure the homeless community feels loved and gets some Christmas spirit.”
Path House offers showers, laundry area, snacks, hot beverages, winter clothing, and help obtaining birth certificates, IDs, and food stamps to those who are not ready to move into the Fifth Street shelter or who are ineligible because of substance use.
Hopkins also goes out to homeless encampments to take clothes, food, hygiene products, batteries, and other essentials.
He welcomes donations of coats, gloves, and toboggans to distribute to the homeless community.
“They are some of the nicest people I have ever met. We want to make them feel warm and comfortable at Path House,” Hopkins added.
Community homeless advocate Rob Harris said that Cochran Street Baptist can assist with winter clothing for anyone in need.
Harris sees the ugliness of living on the street every day in his efforts, but he has also seen “lots of successes, with a large number of people helped to get off the streets in the past year.”
Helping them find housing, learn independent living skills, and get them to sobriety is challenging. “We need to celebrate the ones that we are actually making a difference in. There’s a lot of work to do out there, of course, but there’s a lot of successes too.”
Harris said the Statesville Police Department was “exceptional to work with.” The coalition members step into bad conditions, remedy them quickly, and then tackle individuals’ issues one-by-one.
“There’s so many we don’t talk about — a 17-year-old recently off the street and back home in Wisconsin. People are taking action and walking the walk. Lots of good stuff is going on in this community.”
Karen Kidd of The Cove Church in Statesville cited advocates’ persistence with one homeless man with substance use issues who had been a nuisance to police and EMS for years. He finally went into offered treatment, got sober, became a restaurant manager, and is now a peer support specialist in Asheville.
When most had given up on him, they persisted in offering help, which has now allowed him to achieve so much success. “I’m so excited for him,” Kidd said.
The coalition has also helped find missing persons, with one recently located after two hours of investigation and is now home for the holidays.
Advocate Steve Byrd added that one small act, like buying a bus ticket, can get people where they need to be to find a better life and success.
David Dearman, director of Foundry House and a member of Celebrate Recovery, once experienced addiction and homelessness himself. He praised the work of the coalition, saying, “Help works — I’m proof.”
Casey Tucker of Integrated Care of Greater Hickory – Statesville uses her own experiences with addiction, incarceration, and sober living to connect with clients and shows them “things can be better. I’m just in shock every day about where I am now in life.”
ICGH just signed a contract with the probation office to provide treatment alternatives to individuals under probation supervision. “We drug test regularly. It’s treatment – it’s recovery. It’’s not just a dose (of medically assisted treatment) and go, which is really important.”
The agency offers free transportation, free treatment, and free peer support to anyone with substance use disorder.
ICGH is also working to bring a sober living facility to the area.
COMMUNITY RESPONSE SUPPORT TEAM
One coalition member recently received a new grant to greatly expand services. The Community Response Support Team, under the county’s EMS services, helps people with issues that otherwise drain county emergency services’ resources.
Community Support Specialist Terri Blankenship said that the team assists those with chronic illness, all types of substance use, alcohol use, and justice-involved people who are on probation or going through the re-entry process.
The three support specialists and two paramedics help people get to detox treatment, sober living, and MAT services, and may even pay for this help
Team members also distribute NARCAN, back packs, snacks, hygiene kits, and educational materials. They can also help with transportation issues to treatment with gas cards, ICATS vouchers, and ride share credits.
They can also provide employment, housing, and food and nutrition resources.
“With just about every barrier somebody could be facing, if we don’t have a resource for it, that’s what the collaborative is for to overcome those barriers,” Blankenship said. “We are working really hard to strengthen relationships” with other agencies and organizations.
Navey cited the times SPD has worked with the CRST in difficult situations and successfully collaborated to provide physical and mental health care and substance use disorder resources. “I hope folks learn more about how to use these resources.”
Blankenship says their work helps to reduce frequent calls and impacts on county services, including EMS, police, and Social Services.
Community Resource Coordinator Lori Carlson of Mooresville Police Department reported on its Heroes and Helpers event, in partnership with the Salvation Army and other sponsors, on this Saturday for 40 kids.
Thirty officers volunteered to take the kids shopping with $200 gift cards and the families will get Aldi’s gift cards to purchase a Christmas meal. FeedNC will provide breakfast.
Shelton Moore of I-CARE, Inc. said the agency has food boxes available for pick up as well as CARES COVID-19 relief funding to provide emergency rent and utilities help and education and employment supports. Please send referrals to 1415 Shelton Avenue, Statesville, 28677. For more information contact us at 704-872-8141 or visit www.icare-inc.org.
Fifth Street is planning to entertain 100 guests at its Christmas meal and to distribute 275
Christmas food boxes on December 23 from 1 to 4 p.m.
To receive a food box, call to register by Friday, December 17, at 704-872-4045.
Fifth Street also needs donations of uncooked turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, potato salad, corn, green beans, gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, and homemade desserts to provide these boxes and Christmas meal.
To make the holidays safer, Jill McLelland, Director of the Drug-Alcohol Coalition of Iredell, has NARCAN and varying sizes of medication lockboxes available to agencies and community members.
The next meeting of the Homeless Coalition is Wednesday, January 12, at 10 a.m. Contact Pam Navey at 704-878-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in joining the coalition’s work or if in need of its resources.