REACH aims for new shelter
For nearly a year, REACH of Macon County has been helping domestic abuse victims in Jackson County. The group has handled more than 400 cases in Jackson since last July.
“To be honest with you, we feel like that number should be higher,” Andrea Anderson, the group’s executive director, told the Jackson County commissioners recently. “We definitely have been talking and trying to figure out how to reach out to more victims.”
As it is, about 30 percent of Macon REACH’s work is in Jackson County. Currently, Jackson contributes $50,000 annually to REACH’s $730,000 budget, and now the group is asking Jackson officials to kick in some funds toward a new domestic violence shelter.
“There’s definitely a need in this area for a new shelter facility,” Anderson explained during a commissioners workshop.
REACH is requesting a one-time amount of $25,000 from Jackson County. The sum would paired with other funds to pay for the estimated $1.2 million project.
“It’s really a low amount when you look at the overall cost of this project,” Anderson said, urging commissioners to consider the dollar value of sheltering the county’s abuse victims. “The $25,000 will easily pay for itself, easily within the first year.”
Currently, REACH operates a shelter out of an old farmhouse owned by the Baptist Children’s Home. The property’s age and condition have become an issue.
“It’s kind of like an old car, every time you turn around you have to fix something,” Anderson said.
Space has also become an issue. The farmhouse has six bedrooms and the organization often encounters more need than it can presently accommodate. Over the past two and a half years, the shelter has been at capacity more than half the time.
“Currently, we’ve been having to turn away people,” Anderson said. “We’ve had to turn 13 families away.”
REACH plans to build a 10-bedroom shelter adjacent to its offices on property the organization owns. The facility will have a kitchen and dining area, play room, conference room, laundry facility, counseling offices and a fenced backyard.
“The facility is being built in such a manner that it can easily be added on to,” Anderson added.
REACH is seeking the bulk of the needed funding through a North Carolina Housing Finance grant of $908,555. The remainder is being sought via other grants and fundraising efforts.
REACH will learn if it has been awarded the NCHF grant by July. But Anderson — who said the project would go ahead regardless — seemed to feel pretty good about the group’s chances.
“They definitely know the need in this area for a new shelter facility,” she said when commissioners’ asked about the likelihood of the grant being approved.
The Jackson County commissioners asked Anderson if she thought the county might one day have its own domestic violence shelter. Jackson’s own domestic violence agency shut down in 2012 under financial duress.
“Do you see a smaller facility in Jackson County?” asked County Manager Chuck Wooten.
“I knew this question was going to come up,” Anderson said. “I personally believe there should be a shelter in Jackson County.”
But that, she explained, was in the “long term.” Something to shoot for. Currently, the group is working with Western Carolina University to conduct a needs assessment to “determine the path forward.”
“But, in the meantime, the reality is it’s going to be a while before you’re up and running,” Anderson said, estimating at least three to five years before Jackson might have a local shelter.
“When would those funds be needed?” Wooten asked about the $25,000.
Anderson explained that the funds were not needed immediately. She told commissioners that NCHF wanted to see that REACH had “made progress,” but the actual money could wait.
“We actually have a year to raise the entire balance,” Anderson said. “Commitment is really important this month.”
Commissioners will be considering REACH of Macon County’s request — among other funding requests — during the budget season. Wooten said the request will be included in the proposed budget he submits to commissioners May 19.
“REACH of Macon really stepped in and has provided a great service,” Wooten said. “We could not have asked for a better partner to serve the residents of Jackson County that are involved in a domestic violence situation.”