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Homeless shelter gets $15,000 from Jackson commissioners

jacksonA $15,000 contribution from Jackson County Commissioners will ensure that housing for the county’s homeless continues through the winter.

The unanimous vote came following a period of financial struggle for Jackson County Neighbors in Need, the nonprofit group that organizes shelter for Jackson’s homeless during the winter months. Though numbers this winter had been similar to last year’s, higher motel prices and an elevated level of need among those served had strained the group’s financial resources, leading to a projection that they’d run out of money for housing by Feb. 6.

An influx of cash from community donors and the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser Jan. 30 helped the situation some, bringing the group’s bank account to a little over $15,000 by the time they approached commissioners Feb. 4. 

“We’re feeling that we do have the funds to get through this year,” Bob Cochran, the county’s director of social services and a Neighbors in Need board member, told commissioners. “Looking at next year is when we’re like to continue having the concern.” 

Based on use levels during the first part of the winter, Neighbors in Need had estimated it would need about $15,000 to make it through the winter. But the January fundraiser had largely been intended to raise funds toward the following year of operations, when the group would expect to need about $35,000 to operate the shelter and $15,000 to give families in need a hand heating their homes. The group also spends some money each year helping families winterize their homes. 

“It would really be a little unfair to pull money out of that pot when there’s a deficiency in the current year,” acknowledged Commission Chairman Brian McMahan before moving for a vote on the $15,000 appropriation.   

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To be fair, the shelter’s been seeing lower use levels recently than it had earlier in the season. But that might have more to do with the community’s awareness of the shelter’s financial structure than with the actual level of need, said board member Kristi Case. 

“The word is out that we are struggling to meet the local community’s need, so there may be people that have needs that are trying to seek out those resources elsewhere,” Case said. 

As of Jan. 24, the group had served 38 different people, five of them children. Last year, Neighbors in Need housed 66 people, 22 of them children, between Nov. 1 and March 31.

The appropriation will smooth the financial picture for Neighbors in Need over the rest of the winter, but as the warmer months roll forward, the group’s leadership hopes to talk more about getting a permanent facility established. The current model of putting families up in hotel rooms is expensive on a per-night basis, and the group has been trying for some time now to find a location and funding to operate a year-round, dedicated homeless shelter. 

“I really am hopeful that we can get to that point in the future,” McMahan said. 

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