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Increased need prompts change in shelter management

Correction: In the March 1 issue, The Smoky Mountain News incorrectly reported that Jackson Neighbors in Need requested funding from the Jackson County Commissioners. The Southwestern Child Development Commission is the entity that requested the funding, as management of Jackson’s homeless shelter has transitioned from Neighbors in Need to the SWCDC. SMN regrets the error.

Increased homelessness has led Jackson Neighbors in Need to exit the cold-weather shelter business, transitioning those duties to the Southwestern Child Development Commission. 

The two organizations have a history of collaboration, with the SWCDC handling application and administration of the grant funding that supports the shelter’s case management position. This year, the Evergreen Foundation awarded the organization $20,000 to fund the position through the end of March. 

However, need for shelter exploded over the last few months, testing the ability of Neighbors in Need to keep itself running. As of Feb. 20, the shelter had served 67 people — 24 of them children — over the winter, making this a record-breaking season. By the time the shelter closed up shop at the end of March last year, 60 people had been served over the entire five-month season. In 2014, 66 people used the cold-weather shelter for 1,074 nights, costing a total of $24,300.

As of Feb. 20, Neighbors in Need had spent $51,600 on the cold-weather shelter this winter. 

“The decision was made (to transition shelter management to the SWCDC) because we housed the case manager and we were trying to centralize the funding so everything was coming out of one place,” said Marilyn Chamberlain of the SWCDC. 

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The funding issue is also the reason a task force has not yet been formed to develop a long-term plan for shelter efforts. County commissioners and shelter advocates had agreed to do so promptly during a meeting last fall. 

“We were in the process of putting a task force together, and in the middle of that process funding became crucial, so we kind of switched gears to figuring out the funding question for the remaining part of the season,” Chamberlain said.

Commissioners allocated $23,400 to the shelter in February. Since then, a change in the hotel used to shelter homeless people has made things somewhat easier, with per-room prices falling from $70-75 to about $50. Of those sheltered this year, about 80 percent have received permanent housing, Chamberlain said. 

To donate to or volunteer for the shelter, call Chamberlain at 828.586.5561.

— By Holly Kays, staff writer

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