The current iteration of Community House on Rosemary Street is a homeless shelter. It provides some of theservices of a rehabilitation center, but the primary purpose is the provision of meals and a safe place to sleep. It does offer some counseling and medical services, but the limited space in that facility restricts the ability to offer comprehensive services. One single 25’ x 10’ room is currently used to provide medical treatment, mental health, disability counseling and neurological support; it is the pharmacy and the one-on-one counseling area for the VA representative and social workers; and it is the shelter manager’s office.
During the 2009-10 program year, the current shelter has served 417 men, about 10 percent of those who meet the definition of chronically homeless. Chronic homelessness is long-term or repeated homelessness. The federal guidelines define someone as chronically homeless if they have a mental or physical disability and have been continuously homeless for 12 months or four or more times in the past three years. Sadly, many of these individuals are veterans.
The mission of the new Community House is to promote independence and self-reliance through a service-enriched housing program that ends homelessness and transitions residents back into the community. To meet that mission, IFC has proposed a new facility that will offer transitional housing accommodations for 52 homeless men, a resident dining room, staff offices, counseling rooms, a meeting area and a free clinic for Community House and HomeStart residents.
Emergency Shelter Characteristics
• Serves the immediate needs of the chronically homeless (street people) as well as those who are temporarily down-on-their-luck;
• Receives referrals from hospitals, police and social service agencies;
• Provides a safe place to sleep during bad weather nights;
• Offers temporary overnight accommodations, showers, mats, and snacks; and
• Requires cooperation and good behavior by residents while on the premises.
Transitional Housing Characteristics
• Provides long-term skill training for those people who are considered to be chronically homeless;
• Motivates compliance through resident/staff agreements, goals and objectives;
• Provides vocational training, physical fitness, health and nutritional counseling to help these individuals transition out to independent living;
• Offers social networking and peer support; and
• Requires residents to stay free from drugs and alcohol at all times.
The local debate over siting the new transitional housing facility arises from the decision by IFC to include 17 temporary cots to serve the needs of those individuals who do not qualify for the transitional facility. These men may not have reached a point in their lives where they can commit to a program, or they may only be temporarily down on their luck. Without the IFC, there is no other organization in Orange County, at this time, that provides for the emergency shelter needs of those individuals.
Is it IFC’s responsibility to provide both emergency shelter and transitional housing? Its mission statement states that it “provides shelter, food, direct services, advocacy and information to people in need.” It does not say that IFC provides the homeless shelter needs for all of Orange County. However, since the Rosemary Street facility opened in 1985, IFC has become synonymous with the Orange County homeless shelter. As a 501(c)(3) organization, it has the freedom and the flexibility of defining its own mission. And that is what it is doing with the proposed facility.
Currently, IFC and several local faith organizations are working through plans that will provide emergency shelter services at sites other than Community House. No one wants to risk the success of the transitional program by introducing noncompliant individuals into this new environment. But from a humanitarian perspective, how can they simply walk away and leave these men without protection?
With one of the highest rates of poverty in North Carolina and year-after-year of budget cuts for social services, Orange County could face a massive human services deficit in the next few years. Tomorrow it could be you who needs a place to stay. Should we limit our options for how to meet this very human need, or do we keep those temporary use options open, defined by hard and fast guidelines about how and when they can be used?
– Terri Buckner