Haywood Pathways on a roll
Haywood County’s only homeless shelter — and one of the very few in North Carolina west of Asheville — continues to advance its mission of transforming the most vulnerable among us by filling in some of the potholes on their road to recovery.
Working with elected officials, law enforcement, other nonprofits and county residents, Haywood Pathways Center has recently taken several steps to broaden scope and service, helping more people get in, as well as get out.
Getting people off the streets
Although it’s much more, Haywood Pathways is best known as a place where men and women can get a plate to eat and a place to sleep.
Bringing minors into the mix, however, has always presented a problem — but not for much longer.
“What I love about this community is that we have government officials, businesses, nonprofits, and the faith community all working together,” said Rev. Nick Honercamp, immediate past chair of the Pathways board. “Without that partnership, you’re never going to solve the kind of problems we’re seeing in our community today.”
Since its creation in 2014, Pathways — with a men’s dorm and a women’s dorm — hasn’t been set up to accommodate children, meaning homeless women or families had to rely on partnerships social service agencies had established with local budget hotels.
Those rooms aren’t as cost-effective as housing at Pathways, and they’re getting harder and harder to find.
The solution is a new two-story 5,400-square-foot modular building that will feature 10 bedrooms and house women with children exclusively; some of the rooms feature jack-and-jill bathrooms and can be configured to host a few larger families, or several smaller ones.
Groundbreaking on the project was March 15, with a projected opening date in late August, just in time for families to get settled in before school starts.
“There is nowhere else,” said Pathways Executive Director Mandy Haithcox. “We got a call from a grandmother with grandkids, and they don’t have anywhere else to go and it’s 28 degrees tonight. Instead, we’re paying $56 for them to stay somewhere.”
Both floors of the new building will come complete with common areas, a laundry room and a kitchenette, but the ground floor will also feature 24-hour security, a caseworker office, and a trauma-informed playroom meant to be orderly and calming.
“Most people have trauma of some sort, and it’s more complicated if you’re three years old and homeless,” Haithcox said.
Pathways’ annual budget is on the order of $330,000, almost all of which comes from individuals in the faith community.
The cost for the new building, including fixtures, some furnishings, a year’s worth of operating costs, programming and staffing comes in around $800,000.
“We have enough at this moment to construct the building debt-free, and so we’re raising the rest of the funds,” Haithcox said.
Pathways is also looking for furnishings, and hopes to set up a “bridal registry” of sorts, whereby donors can purchase items like, dressers, beds or even laptops for use by families in the building.
Getting people on the streets
While the lack of public transportation in Haywood County serves as an impediment to economic development, it also disproportionately affects the poor, the unemployed and people trying to get back on their feet — like the residents of Haywood Pathways.
“Because of this, some people can only work within walking distance,” said Mandy Haithcox, executive director of Pathways.
As the old joke goes, everything is within walking distance if you have the time, but many people don’t — the average person walks about two miles per hour, and in the past, Haithcox said, some Pathways residents have walked to jobs on Russ Avenue or even in Ratliff Cove, some four miles distant.
But Pathways Community Liaison Deb Isenberg said that once some local bicycle club members got their wheels turning, they came up with a solution that has Pathways residents pounding the pedals instead of the pavement.
“The folks from BicycleHaywoodNC had the idea, so I met with them and we just kind of brainstormed,” Isenberg said. “They wanted to do something where they could utilize old bikes, provide our residents with wheels, and use that whole process to promote bicycle safety.”
BicycleHaywoodNC is the local chapter of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, an Asheville-based 501 (c) 3 that promotes both fitness and fun through cycling. Foremost, however, is safety.
“We’ve seen a number of people walking to work through town, and others who looked like they were using their bicycles for transportation,” said Bob Clark of BicycleHaywoodNC. “No lights, no helmets, riding on the wrong side of road … we thought Pathways would be a good place to reach out and start a program.”
Members of the group refurbished and donated five bicycles, bought helmets, pumps, tube repair kits and tools and constructed a small storage shed.
“Everything was donated,” Isenberg said.
Residents that want to borrow a bike must first pass a safety class, and can then sign one out for business, or for pleasure; BicycleHaywoodNC also plans to organize a monthly ride at Pathways with residents.
“Part of it is not just to get to work, but also to promote healthy living and also being part of another community of people,” said Haithcox. “So when they leave here, there’s another source of support and another source of relationships.”
The first safety class was conducted March 17 and celebrated with an inaugural ride.