A homeless shelter has opened in Sylva to provide an escape from the frigid nights.
The shelter, located at Lifeway Church in Sylva, is the only homeless shelter in Jackson County. It will remain open through March.
About a month ago several local organizations met to discuss the need for a homeless shelter amid fears the spiraling economy would leave people with nowhere to turn.
Local churches have committed to staff the homeless shelter in Sylva with volunteers.
The shelter is working in partnership with the Community Table to provide meals.
Lifeway Pastor Mike Abbott doesn’t know how many homeless people there are in the Sylva area, but said, “We definitely have homelessness.”
With the winter being so cold this year, there needs to be a place for them, he said. The shelter opened about two weeks ago, and as of Sunday (March 1) no one had stayed there.
He said the homeless may not realize it’s there or they may have gone south or to Buncombe County by now. The shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week.
Abbott said the plan is for Lifeway to host the shelter again next year with it opening Nov. 1.
“I’m excited that in a relatively short period, community organizations and churches were able to come together and accomplish opening this up,” Abbott said. “This speaks well of the community. A lot of good people made this happen.”
The shelter can accommodate about 20 people and there is additional space for women with children and families, he said.
Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Dowling said the economy is causing people who normally wouldn’t need help to seek assistance.
“More people are losing their jobs and their healthcare,” she said. “The faces of people in need are changing.”
Many people who have lost their jobs and need food stamps can’t get them because they have assets that preclude them from qualifying, she said.
Laid off employees are having trouble paying their rent and can’t get help because the rental assistance program waiting list at Mountain Projects is “years long,” said Dowling.
Utility bills are becoming harder to pay for people affected by the economy.
Churches in Haywood County have banded together to open a homeless there, too. Space is being provided at Camp New Life.
Dowling spearheaded the community meetings to bring the homeless shelters to Jackson and Haywood counties. Her interest was sparked in December when there was a homeless couple in Waynesville that needed a place to stay.
There was nowhere in Waynesville and nothing available in Asheville. She felt bad that the only thing Haywood County could offer the couple was gas money to get to a shelter in Tennessee.
“We should have a place for people to get back on their feet,” she said.
Asked if she thinks it took too long to get shelters open in Jackson and Haywood counties, Dowling said she is not going to look back.
She said there is also a need for food and clothing, noting that the Community Table may expand its hours and her church in Tuckasegee may open a food pantry.
Dowling has a long list of heartbreaking stories, including a 61-year-old woman who can’t afford heating oil and groceries.
“I hear so many stories of people who were making $20 an hour last year and now are walking into my office with utility disconnect notices,” she said.