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Wednesday, 11 November 2015 15:03

New initiative to provide winter assistance

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maconMacon New Beginnings, a new nonprofit in Macon County working to address homelessness, has been hard at work trying to come up with a plan to shelter people in need through the winter.

Bob Bourke, Macon New Beginnings president, said the newly formed organization is still in its infancy stage but is directing all its time and resources right now toward being able to provide emergency, temporary housing for people through the winter. 

The organization has worked out a deal with a couple of hotel owners to secure vacant hotel rooms at a discounted price. For $150, Macon New Beginnings can house a person or family for a week.

“During that week, we encourage them strongly to get to NC Works to find a job or if it’s health issues, we send them to CareNet or direct them to whatever resources they need,” Bourke said. “Because a week goes by fast.”

So far, Bourke said the organization has assisted more than 40 people, including several families. Macon New Beginnings has been holding regular meetings to gather together volunteers to assist in various capacities, including prevention efforts, crisis intervention and transitions. 

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to move people from homelessness to their own home within one week,” Bourke said. “All kinds of people in the community are stepping up to help.”

For those who aren’t able to find a permanent residence within a week, Bourke said the organization examines those situations on a case-by-case basis. If someone has been making an effort and has extenuating circumstances, they might be able to help them for another week. If the person hasn’t made an effort to help himself or herself, they will need to look for somewhere else to stay. 

Macon New Beginnings was founded on Christian principles just like The Father’s House, a homeless ministry in Franklin providing shelter for people who commit to participating in a six-month rehabilitation program through the church. However, the two organizations don’t seem to be able to work in tandem even though their missions are similar. 

Lowell Monteith, pastor of The Father’s House, said the people who started Macon New Beginnings were originally part of his ministry board, but they broke off and started a new mission. Monteith said he set an expectation of time he wanted board members to spend interacting with clients at the shelter, but they couldn’t meet that expectation. 

“I showed up to some of the meetings, but they don’t want to work with me,” Monteith said. 

Bourke said Macon New Beginnings has tried to assist The Father’s House by donating blankets and other essentials his clients may need, but he doesn’t feel comfortable referring people to that shelter due to safety issues with the facility. The Father’s House church and shelter are located in a former greenhouse nursery and the county fire marshal has threatened to shut the place down if Monteith doesn’t install a sprinkler system. 

“We have the same mission to help the homeless but we can’t refer people to them,” Burke said. “We can’t risk putting homeless people in a worse situation.”

While Monteith thinks it’s great that another organization is working to help the homeless, he said putting people in a hotel for a week is not a long-term solution to the problem. Macon New Beginnings might be helping people who may just be going through a hard time, but his six-month program is designed to help people with a myriad of problems that led them to homelessness — drug abuse, being institutionalized for many years and other obstacles. He would rather see the organization put the money it’s raised toward a shelter. 

“They’re getting people out looking for jobs and that’s great, but it’s not sustainable to put people in hotels — they’re going to run out of money quickly,” Monteith said. 

Bourke acknowledges that the hotel model is not sustainable, but it’s the best they can do for this winter. Macon New Beginnings is also looking at long-term solutions like finding a building for a shelter. He is also in discussions with the owner of an RV park for sale to perhaps build tiny homes in the park for people.

Monteith is trying to find another location for the shelter. He has a former apartment building purchased on Lake Emory Road but providing enough sewer capacity has been a problem. The town of Franklin and Macon County commissioners have not been receptive to allowing him to tie on to the sewer line on Lake Emory Road because it’s a forced main line. Monteith can’t help but feel like everyone is against his efforts. 

“I personally don’t have any animosity toward Lowell — he’s trying to help the homeless — but there are proper ways to do it,” Bourke said. “If he can find a good avenue, we will help him.”

The next volunteer meeting for Macon New Beginnings will be held at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Community Building in Franklin. Visit www.maconnewbeginnings.org.

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