There aren’t many options for those without a home in Western North Carolina. Sleeping outside is one, but winter nights can get dangerously frigid. Non-profit agencies can sometimes pay for a hotel room, but only for a couple nights at most. The other option is to seek out the closest homeless shelter available — in Newport, Tenn.
Sending the homeless out of state may seem perplexing, but the dire lack of either emergency or long-term shelters nearby leaves organizations that help the needy with little choice. There’s only one shelter in the seven counties west of Asheville, located in Murphy. The Hurlburt-Johnson Friendship House fits 22 people, and has been at maximum capacity for five months.
In recent months, Patsy Dowling, director of Mountain Projects, says she’s witnessed people living in their cars or camping out at the homes of various relatives. There’s little she or other agency directors can do.
“We try our best to send them to the shelter in Newport, Tenn., or Knoxville or Asheville. We’ll buy them a bus ticket,” said Lisa James, director of Haywood Christian Ministries. “We are very limited in our ability to provide shelter, and there’s a definite need.”
Strict requirements mean a shelter can’t just be opened in any old building. Homeless shelters must have an automatic sprinkler system and usually need to be located in city limits where city water is available, said Bruce Crawford, director of building inspections for Haywood County.
Then there’s selling the idea to nearby residents, who aren’t always thrilled to have a homeless shelter in proximity.
“You start getting ready to open a shelter, and there’s a lot of opposition; a lot of ‘not in my backyard’,” said Dowling.
A group has formed in Haywood County that is studying the possibility of opening an emergency, temporary stay shelter. The group is also studying a long-term solution, but “we don’t have enough time to create that model before the winter is over,” said Nick Honerkamp, pastor of New Covenant Church, a possible shelter site. The group hopes to secure a structure soon that will stay open through February.
“We can’t do nothing,” Honerkamp said. “So we’ve just decided that we have to do what we can. If we work together, we can solve this problem.”