Know the need

Smart as we all like to think we are, few of us could get into Harvard. So when someone with a degree from Harvard Business School says we need certain information in order to make an effective decision, we should listen. But council members Donna Bell and Penny Rich and IFC director Chris Moran think otherwise.

In the public hearing discussion of shelter guidelines Wednesday night, council member and Harvard Business School grad Matt Czajkowski asked about the extent of the homeless problem that Chapel Hill needed to address. Moran didn’t want to answer, dodging the question by saying it was difficult to come up with a number. Bell seemed to deliberately misunderstand the question, and Rich claimed that just because someone is living in a tent off the highway doesn’t mean they should be considered homeless. Maybe they like living that way, she said.

So Czajkowski tried a different tack: How did the shelter come up with the number of 52 beds for transitional housing and 13 beds for emergency white flag nights? Again, Moran wouldn’t answer.

Moran knows the answer. The shelter keeps a record of how many people it provides services for daily. If he doesn’t know that, he has no business directing the IFC. But it is in his best interest not to disclose any hard numbers. He solicits donations for the admittedly good work the IFC does by plucking the guilt string of the relatively well-off residents of Chapel Hill. That is clear by the speech he gave during his allotted 3 minutes at the public hearing. Even after Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison pleaded with speakers to stick to a discussion of the guidelines, not stray into topics such as the proposed Community House, Moran nevertheless gave his well-worn speech about the problem of homelessness in the U.S.

If the IFC came up with the number of 52 beds because that was all it could afford or because that was the most cost-effective number that would allow the greatest number of people to be served with the least number of staff, he would have said so. But it is in Moran’s best interest – rather, the best interest of the IFC’s fundraising efforts – to limit the talk only to the amorphous and insatiable need to help the homeless find shelter and stability. That’s what brings in the bucks. If word got out that X was the anticipated number of beds needed to serve everyone wanting shelter under normal conditions, then once funding for X number of beds was reached, Moran would have a very hard time raising any money beyond that amount.

Until we define the problem, we can’t expect to come up with a good solution. I bet Czajkowski new that even before he went to Harvard.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Even though Matt was off on his numbers, it’s 17 beds for emergency nights, I think he is totally on-beam in asking for a decent estimate of the demand for those beds. Watching Donna struggle to argue her point last night was difficult – it was peculiar how she refused to listen to Matt’s several attempts to clarify his question (which I found, on first blush, fairly easy to understand).

    I’d also like to know the current potential demand.

    I know it will be difficult and will require a distillation of several numbers – the estimated number of homeless folks in the area, the smaller subset who are interested in emergency housing under particular conditions, the potentially smaller subset of those that fit the IFC’s criteria plus additional referrals from other services (as Donna did mention). As far as referrals, I was not aware that IFC accepted substantial numbers of emergency patrons from outside the County. From what I’ve heard, most are walk-ins or are redirected from local entities.

    Why would I like to see a firmer number? I’d like to try to make the case, again, to the BOCC that it is their responsibility to deal with emergency shelter. Being able to right-size the demand will help.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  January 21, 2011

    If you want to count something, you have to define it first. That is a basic statistical principle. In the case of homelessness, as Donna tried to explain to Matt and as Chris said in his response, there is not a single condition called homelessness. Community House is being designed to serve that group of individuals who sincerely wish to get off the streets. The TEMPORARY emergency beds will serve that portion of the homeless population that are not interested/able to commit to the rehabilitation program. Then there are those, like many released prisoners, who are transitionally homeless. The larger group of homeless are those that are “under housed.” They don’t live on the streets but may sleep on different sofas/floors from night to night.

    To adequately understand the service needs of these people, you cannot lump them into a single count. That would be to simplify the problem through false generalization. If Matt or anyone else wants to understands the extent of the homeless problem, I have every confidence that Chris would sit down and go through the numbers and the challenges. But to have a question asked in a public forum that’s topic was the regulated placement of a homeless shelter was not the venue for that presentation. It’s an answer that requires time and repetition, especially today when there is an 18% poverty rate in Orange County.

    The homeless aren’t a business problem. They are a human services problem.

  3. Runner

     /  January 21, 2011


    You are 100% correct that there is a subset of the “at need” population that needs shelter on an inconsistant basis. They are referred to as the “drop-in homeless”. As Donna described so well the other night, on any given day/night there are several regional social service organizations on the phone hunting for beds for the “drop-in” homeless.

    If there are no beds in one location, like Durham, they may call the IFC. If the IFC is full, they may call Wake County. I also imagine that somewhere like Johnston County is calling Wake County looking for beds when needed. My point is that there will always be people shopping for beds for the drop-in homeless.

    The new IFC shelter is being pitched as a 52 person facility supporting fully vetted and approved men who are actively participating in a structured program. However, The IFC also is proposing that the new shelter be built with an additional 13 or 17 beds for the “drop-in homeless” on, as Chris called them, “Emergency Days”. There is no dispute that we average somewhere around 175-200 emegency days per year.

    I support the IFC’s desire to have a location designed to provide the services for the “Homestart” program at the MLK/Homestead Rd location. Yet, having the new IFC “Homestart” facility also be a location for the “drop-in” homeless is counter to the goals of the Homestart program.

    The Town and County need to step up and find an alternate location for the “drop-in” homeless.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  January 21, 2011

    One small correction to your post, Steve. The new residential services center (it is NOT a shelter) is not being designed to support the 17 temporary beds. Those beds will be cots set up in the facility’s dining room. There is no accommodation for them in the design.

    The hope is that someone will step up and provide temporary shelter for those in need. That need will far exceed 17 beds, especially during winter months. From what Chris said Wednesday night, there is a discussion underway between IFC and local churches. To my knowledge none of our local governmental entities have taken any responsibility for serving this population beyond a very small financial contribution in the annual budget.

  5. Terri, as you noted “that need will far exceed 17 beds, especially during winter months.” I’m interested in getting a more specific range of what that demand is so that I can better make the case to the BOCC, as I’ve tried this last year, that they are the “someone” who should ” step up and provide temporary shelter for those in need.” (along with IFC, the local municipalities).

  6. Runner

     /  January 21, 2011


    I am not Steve. But anyway, the new IFC “residential services center, facility or building” (whatever you want to call it) is being designed to help people transition to some sort of independent lifestyle in a structured and supervised manner. I support that mission.

    Whether the IFS temporarily houses the “drop-in” homeless in cots in the dining room, the basement or hallways on up to 200 nights per year, that practice is detrimental to the success of the Homestart program and should be supported elsewhere.

  7. Whoops! Need an edit function CHW. As far as “along with IFC” I was going to say “in consultation”. While services are currently concentrated in Chapel Hill, this isn’t a “Chapel Hill” problem. It has been quite disappointing to see discussion of this subject avoided the last 3 joint government meetings.

  8. Runner

     /  January 21, 2011

    Let’s cut to the chase and not get caught up in ancilary arguements. The Town Council will approve whatever guidelines, standards or SUPs that will enable a “residential services facility” to be built at the MLK/Homestead Road site.

    That facility is being pitched as a location to support the well defined scope of a “Homestart” program. I just don’t think that the facility at MLK/Homestead Road should double as a site for the “drop-in” homeless.

  9. Terri Buckner

     /  January 21, 2011

    I agree totally that the new Community House should not be put into the position of using temporary cots because there is no other shelter available. But we’re mixing up discussions and my concern is that others, including some council members, are thinking along the same lines as Runner in his statement “The Town Council will approve whatever guidelines, standards or SUPs that will enable a “residential services facility” to be built at the MLK/Homestead Road site. ”

    The discussion on Wednesday night was about standards, not about a specific facility. Community House should not be subjected to the development of a set of standards that have not been thoroughly vetted and a process that is so politically charged. Nor should we be developing standards that apply to a single instance.

    From what I can tell, the neighbors who oppose the MLK site for Community House requested the creation of these standards, and they don’t like what was proposed by the Planning Committee. Instead of discussing those standards and how they might apply to a wide variety of facilities now and into the future, the entire discussion has been about Community House.

    The question that needs to be asked is whether a delay in adopting a set of standards is going to have a delaying effect on the SUP process for Community House. I hope not, but I’m not feeling very confident that Council will be able to separate these as two separate issues.

    On the issue of who should shoulder the responsibility for temporary shelter, the “Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness is a collaboration among service providers, local governments, the UNC-CH community, faith-based and other community groups, local businesses, and individuals working together to end homelessness in Orange County.” Each of the local governments (Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Orange County, Hillsborough) have one or more representatives on that group. But they say they aren’t responsible for providing shelter or for helping the community identify sources of care. Go figure. I went to one of their meetings and asked that they facilitate a public discussion around Community House when it because clear that the community meetings held by IFC were becoming so controversial. All that request achieved was a fairly insipid opinion piece in the Chapel Hill News.

    So while the one group specifically charged with helping the homeless is busy planning the long-term future (an important task!), we have no one but IFC to look after the short-term need. I say thank god for IFC. The criticisms and accusations of conspiracy they are facing is unwarranted.

  10. Mark Peters

     /  January 21, 2011

    The agenda item was to discuss shelter guidelines, much of which relates to siting of at risk facilities.

    I took Matt’s questions as trying to establish whether the guidelines will be used again in the foreseeable future. Ie – When will the need for at risk beds mean that we will see future siting requests for at risk facilities?

    On January 4th, Chris Moran stated to the planning board that the 17 beds are to be a *permanent* part of the approved use. It is not temporary unless the SUP states a specific date a year or two away when white flag nights will no longer be allowed. There is no commitment for anyone to take over the white flag nights. Even if churches do it for a year or two (the “bait and switch”), Chris Moran specifically stated that he wants the 17 beds to be a permanent part of the approval for future white bed usage. He even added some brand new uses for the 17 beds on non-white flag nights in his Jan 4 statements, such as using it for incoming transitional residents and other purposes. Given the Jan 4th testimony to the planning board, it is false to state that the 17 beds are temporary.

    The IFC proposal is both a transitional shelter AND a white flag night shelter. Chris’ Jan 4 statements make that indisputable. Both uses are a shelter under the town’s current definition, as Chris has stated in many public meetings.

    I agree with Runner’s and Will’s main points.

    For the record, Chris Moran stated tonight that the term “White Flag Night” did not come from IFC, that “it is not our term”. In fact, the term “White Flag Nights” originally came from the document named “additional info-1b-Inter-Faith Council Memorandum.pdf” from IFC from the 2009-11-16 Town Council meeting. Ironically, when 4 neighbors met at the dispute resolution center with IFC, Chris made the same statement. Then Laurie Tucker, IFC manager, said “Chris, I am the one who put that term into the documents.”

  11. Jon DeHart

     /  January 21, 2011

    Thanks for addressing this issue. Many of these questions would have been asked and answered if there had been greater public input before a site was chosen. It is not too late for that public input …

  12. John Kramer

     /  January 21, 2011

    Yes, thanks for the excellent article. I feel sorry for Matt C as he is extremely smart. He must be very patient to put up with some of the silliness.

    And thanks to Mark P for not only speaking out but also having the decency to respond to even the most inane comments from the cheerleaders.

  13. Jason Baker

     /  January 21, 2011

    If you’re going to reduce our council members to the degrees they hold, why would you mention that Council Member Czajkowski has a business degree while not mentioning that Council Member Bell has a masters in social work? It seems like the latter is probably much more relevant to a discussion about homelessness in Chapel Hill than the former.

    If you concede that point, I’ll forgive you just this once for implying Harvard has anything on the greatest university in the country here in Chapel Hill. 🙂

  14. Nancy Oates

     /  January 21, 2011

    Jason, I have the greatest respect for the way social workers I know have the ability to get right to the crux of the matter. Which is why I was so disappointed in Bell for seemingly trying so hard to derail the discussion Wednesday night. I expected better of her.

    As for UNC being the greatest university in the country, you won’t get any argument from me tonight. Only hours ago my daughter learned that she has been accepted into Carolina’s class of 2015, and our whole family is flying high.

  15. John Kramer

     /  January 21, 2011

    Jason Baker, lol

  16. Duncan O'Malley

     /  January 22, 2011

    “Never trust a person who uses a smiley face emoticon.”
    – Mark Twain

  17. Mark Marcoplos

     /  January 22, 2011

    I need to know which university you attended before I evaluate your post.

  18. George C

     /  January 22, 2011

    All I want to know is how many of you know from which medical school your doctor graduated from and whether they were in the top or bottom half of their class?

  19. John Kramer

     /  January 22, 2011

    The lib-ians that have a death grip on Chapel Hill politics are so happy that their inclusive search for a homeless shelter has not resulted in a facility near their home. Terri Buckner, Jason Baker, George C, Mark Metropolis and all the other usual libbie suspects are so relieved this will be jammed down the “tea bagging” throats of the wealthy taxpayers living near the anointed site, you know, the site that was the “chosen one” way before there was any of those pesky public hearings held in the interest of making the “orange progressive” appearance of fairness and justice.

    Yes, ladies and gentlemen, ignoring the will of the people, no-wait- going dead against the will of the people-is alive and well in the little liberal enclave known as Chapel Hill.

    And I am so confident that the smell of being crapped on will fade before the next elections that the spineless politicians who pulled this off are safe in their corrupt positions.

  20. Terri Buckner

     /  January 22, 2011

    Why, thank you sooooo much John (forgive me, I’ve been watching old episodes of The Closer). I feel quite honored to be grouped together with George, Jason, and Mark.

  21. Runner

     /  January 23, 2011


    We agree that “The Closer” is a good show.

    Now, can I ask you a direct question? Do you think that the new IFC “Homestart Program” facility, being planned for the MLK/Homestead Road location, should double as a shelter for the “drop-in” homeless on, as Chris Moran stated, “Emergency days”?

    I will give you my answer.

    As much as the facility’s proponents are trying to call the MLK/Homestead road facility a “Residential Services Facility”, it is really an emergency shelter as long as it takes in people on an emergency basis.

    I do not think that the “Homestart” facility should double as an emergency shelter for the drop-in homeless. That service should be provided elsewhere as a condition of approval for the MLK/Homestead Road facility.

  22. Terri Buckner

     /  January 23, 2011

    Yes Runner, I believe we need to have separate facilities for those men who wish to get off the streets and those who just need an overnight bed. But the most vocal of the neighbors have clearly stated that even if the two purposes are separated and there are no emergency cots included in the design that they will still oppose the project.

    Realistically, what is IFC supposed to do in the absence of another group, whether it be private or public, stepping up and assuming responsibility for providing overnight beds? Do you really think they can, in good conscience, just say they’re going to leave those men out in the cold (so to speak)?

  23. Terri Buckner

     /  January 23, 2011

    For those who are interested in knowing how the homeless are counted, here’s a document with screenshots of the reporting form used during the annual point-in-time count along with instructions. This document is distributed to all social service agencies for completion on the designated day. It is also completed by the local police when they do their night time street count (after the IFC shelter closes). Please note that the count is separated into Sheltered/Unsheltered counts and within each of those classifications there are multiple subpopulations:

    For those who wish to understand more about homelessness in Orange County, including stats on need, here are two documents:

    The 10 year plan to end homelessness:

    The 2009 progress report:

    Please note that the statistics draw a very distinct line between homelessness and chronic homelessness. From the 2010 count, there were 181 individuals counted as homeless (on the day/night of the point-in-time count), 38 of whom fall into the chronically homeless category. Chronically homeless is defined as having been homeless for more than a year or for 4 or more times within a 3-year window.

  24. Runner

     /  January 23, 2011


    Thank you for your response. In my opinion, the Homestart program should be for those men who are fully vetted and approved to participate. It is a difficult challenge enough to get through this program without any additional distractions.

    My hope is that the local towns and county government will take this opportunity to create a solution to the need for emergency shelter. There does not need to be just one location to meet this need, the responsibility should be shared.

    I feel that Carrboro should find a place for a certain number of those in need, Chapel Hill should find a place for a certain number of those in need and the County should find a place for a certain number of those in need.

    As Donna Bell said, there are several regional social service organizations shopping for beds everyday. The IFC’s Homestart facility does not need to be the one and only place to service this need.

  25. John Kramer

     /  January 23, 2011

    Okay, folks, let’s see a show of hands for those who want to have a homeless shelter sited in their neighborhood. I would welcome it, who else of the all knowing posters here will say the same thing?

  26. George C

     /  January 23, 2011

    I would. But I know my neighborhood wouldn’t. And I’ve said that publicly – There isn’t a neighborhood in Chapel Hill that would willingly welcome a shelter into its midst. And that is why we shouldn’t be critical of those opposed to it but try to understand their reasons for opposing it and try to alleviate their fears to the greatest extent possible. And this doesn’t apply only to shelters. It applies to anything that has the potential for changing a neighborhood – new schools, new parks, new high-density development, even new bus lines. We all fear change, we all fear the unknown. Good leaders will do everything they can to minimize our fears and to assure us that negative aspects of these unknowns will be minimized.

    John, I’m sure you’ll have some snarky response and so be it. If you have some solutions you’d like to share with us please feel free to do so.

  27. Runner

     /  January 23, 2011

    Something to ponder…

    Instead of having one location in Orange County provide emergency shelter for 15-20 men, why not have each one of the towns within Orange County step up and provide shelter for 4-5 men?

  28. Nancy Oates

     /  January 23, 2011

    I, too, like the group home model, and I think it would be better accepted by neighborhoods. Probably the reason that isn’t on the table is because of cost-prohibitive staffing issues. You’d need someone on site at each place 24 hours; and a social worker, perhaps a nurse and other professionals would need to be readily accessible to the residents. It’s more cost effective to have all the residents in one building, with all the services in one place and fewer staff at night.

  29. John Kramer

     /  January 23, 2011

    “John, I’m sure you’ll have some snarky response and so be it.” Yeah, when you are a lib-ian I am sure all reasoned comments come out as snarky to a rat house liberal.

    Here you go, George. Why don’t you offer a street address in your hood that would work for the homeless? Make it real buddy, or else shut up.

  30. John Kramer

     /  January 23, 2011

    In advance of the deafening silence from Georgie Porgie I say how about some real ideas? I know it may not fit with your current nonprofit but hey!

  31. Runner

     /  January 23, 2011


    I understand the additional cost implications of a distributed shelter plan, and maybe that plan won’t fly. But, I still feel that the Homestart facility should be separate from the overnight shelter.

  32. Mark Peters

     /  January 23, 2011

    Now raise your hand if your neighborhood would support having a 56 bed homeless shelter and a 69 bed homeless shelter and a drug detox which has 22 transition beds & detoxes 850 drug addicts per year on top of that. Then add the magnetic effect which is drawing Oxford and perhaps other drug halfway houses into the neighborhoods.

    Acting as if this is an issue with siting a single facility by itself is completely wrong.

    A neighbor pretty well summed up the response to George’s comment: which starts: “Mr. Cianciolo, I’m not afraid. It’s just that I can count”