Wilmington, NC – It's an audacious idea -- to actually end a problem many see as an inevitable part of urban life. But that's exactly what a massive committee of government agencies, non-profit groups, and community leaders is currently working on: a plan to get all the region's homeless off the streets and into housing in the next ten years.
The group is weighing a number of strategies, many of which would coordinate existing agencies, or create new resources. Committee members have proposed pressuring mental hospitals, prisons, and the foster care system to make more of an effort to find transitional housing for their discharges. Other proposals include the creation of a clearinghouse for information about support services and scouring Brunswick and Pender Counties for affordable housing options.
Solutions could be expensive. Committee chair Spiro Macris says the plan will try to identify diverse funding sources, but political will is a necessary component.
"This will require special communications, some might call it lobbying, of our local representatives, city council, county commissioners, state representatives," Macris said, "but I think if we all work together, we can accomplish a great deal."
Cape Fear is one of roughly a dozen communities in North Carolina that are developing or have implemented this sort of plan. The 10-year model is part of a federal effort to develop local, long-term approaches to chronic homelessness.
Chronically homelessness are distinguished from people who lose their housing suddenly because of financial problems or domestic violence. The term covers individuals who are disabled and have been on the streets a year or more. A third of the homeless in the tri-county area qualify as chronic.
Consultant Ruth Peeples is helping guide the local effort. She says the Cape Fear region has some unique challenges.
"If you're in an urban environment, like New York and Atlanta, homelessness is more visible," Peeples said, "but when you're more in a tourist community, it may not be as visible."
A recent one-night count of the region's homeless gives a clear picture of the problem, identifying 628 individuals in Pender, Brunswick, and New Hanover Counties. The study, directed by Anita Oldham of Southeastern Community Mental Health, found 20% of those people had some mental illness. Nearly 12% are victims of domestic violence. And 15% are veterans.
As part of its development process, the committee is seeking the public's input in a series of meetings in Pender, New Hanover, and Brunswick County.
According to Macris, before the committee can propose actions it needs to gage how people perceive the area's homeless problem.
"We want to address these comments as to whether they are actually valid: are these real concerns, or is it a myth that's out there and we need to correct it," Macris said.
Thursday's public meeting starts at 6:30 in Burgaw's Senior Center, with meetings in Brunswick and New Hanover counties following next week. A final report on the plan to end chronic homelessness is due in July.
Public Forums to Address Chronic Homelessness
Thursday, April 19th
6:30 - 8:00pm
Pender Adult Services (Senior Center), Burgaw
Tuesday, April 24th
6:30 - 8:00pm
Brunswick Community College, Bolivia
Thursday, April 26th
6:30 - 8:00pm
New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, Wilmington
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