The complaints are of ever-increasing trash, discarded needles, human waste, perhaps a more violent or at least a more vocal and more visible contingent of homeless people.
The Smoky Mountain News and The Mountaineer have reported many stories on the homeless over the past couple of years. Why?
Those who live in Haywood County know that the generosity of Haywood’s churches and citizens have provided a network for the needy that is astounding for a small community.
The Pathways shelter can accommodate 60 people, and a new shelter for women and children — with fundraising efforts spearheaded by The Mountaineer — that will provide a warm bed for an additional 36 needy souls is under construction.
The Open Door in Frog Level and the Community Kitchen in Canton serve thousands of free meals a year to those in need. The Community Kitchen is expanding from just over 1,000 square feet to more than 7,000 square feet. It will provide, in addition to meals, classes and job-hunting help for those who need it.
Toward the end of November 2018, our reporter Cory Vaillancourt was talking to the director of the Pathways Center. Here’s what she told him: “So far in 2018 we’ve provided over 14,000 nights of shelter, compared to 7,622 in 2017. Our shelters now, from the last time when you were here, we usually would have an open bed, if not five or six. For the last three or four months, all of our beds have been filled every single night.”
Her referral to the “last time when you were here” was a reference to November 2017, when Cory took on the role of a homeless person to see how he would be treated at Haywood County’s shelter and soup kitchens. He found that, if he followed the rules, he was treated with dignity and his basic needs were met.
Which brings me back around to the original question: Is Haywood now becoming a small town known throughout the region as a place where the homeless and the needy can take refuge? And is that generosity and Christ-like benevolence leading to other problems?
The trash and issues I originally cited seem minor compared to the potential life-changing help that is being offered. Remember, Pathways won’t let those who are drunk or who are on drugs have a bed. You’ve got to be clean or they won’t let you in.
And once in, they steer you toward services that, again, are potentially life changing, including AA and NA, job skills, and more.
The truth, I suspect, is that it’s a delicate balance. I’m thankful we have a police chief like Bill Hollingsed, Sheriff Greg Christopher and the many fantastic law enforcement officers who work hard to walk that fine line, to police but to also steer those in need to where they can find services. I suspect they are the ones who take the brunt of complaints from citizens and then have to deal with the perpetrators. Just like in any group, there are fine people simply living their life and there are bad apples.
Some will disagree, but I’d rather live in a community like this, one where these services are available, one where people have made a commitment to help those in need and a commitment to deal as best it can with the consequences.