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Town to form homelessness task force

Waynesville’s newly-constituted Board of Alderman consisting of (from left) Chuck Dickson, Julia Boyd Freeman, Gary Caldwell, Jon Feichter and Anthony Sutton prepares to consider the homelessness task force. Cory Vaillancourt photo  Waynesville’s newly-constituted Board of Alderman consisting of (from left) Chuck Dickson, Julia Boyd Freeman, Gary Caldwell, Jon Feichter and Anthony Sutton prepares to consider the homelessness task force. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Calling it a campaign promise kept, newly-minted Waynesville Mayor Gary Caldwell announced during the first few moments of his term the creation of a homelessness task force.

“I’m not rushing this into order, but I’m asking for your support to get the wheels in motion and get this going,” Caldwell told the Waynesville Board of Aldermen just after being sworn in on Dec. 10. 

Caldwell’s already asked more than a half a dozen of the usual suspects to serve on the task force, including Alderman Anthony Sutton, former Waynesville police chief and current N.C. Police Chiefs Association Executive Director Bill Hollingsed, Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Davis, Haywood Pathways Center Executive Director Mandy Haithcox, Waynesville Police Lt. Tyler Trantham and Frog Level property owner Jim Pierce as well as representatives from Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher’s office, the Haywood County Board of Commissioners and Long’s Chapel since the church operates Open Door Ministries.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy with the size or the staffing of the task force. 

“The issue of homelessness in Waynesville is a serious problem and deserves our full attention. Indeed, coming out of the November election, my two main focus areas are the homeless problem and affordable housing,” said Alderman Jon Feichter during the meeting. 

Feichter had just been sworn in for his second term on the board and like other candidates participated in a forum in Frog Level just prior to the election that, if anything, demonstrated the level of public interest in the homelessness issue. 

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“That these two issues have risen to the top is not a coincidence because they are inextricably linked,” he said. “That being said, the way this process is unfolding so far feels a bit rushed to me.”

Feichter then took Caldwell to task on the composition of the task force. 

“We know drug abuse and addiction are prime drivers of homelessness, yet there are no experts on these subjects included on the panel. There are no private citizens represented. There are no business owners from Hazelwood represented. There are no first responders represented,” he said. “There are no officials from any of the other Haywood County municipalities represented.”

During the campaign, candidates talked about what such a task force would look like, with much disagreement over whether it would include officials from outlying municipalities Canton, Clyde and Maggie Valley. 

“While I understand we don’t want the task force to become so large as to become unwieldy, I also worry that there may be subject matter experts living here that could provide insight and assistance we might miss,” Feichter continued, urging postponement of the task force’s formation. “I suggest that we allow interested parties to apply to serve on the committee much like we did with the cemetery committee … the most important thing is that we get it right, as opposed to get it right now.”

Caldwell cautioned against allowing the group to become too big, and thus too unproductive, but did add that there was probably enough “wiggle room” to add another two to four people. 

Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem Julia Boyd Freeman also had issues with Caldwell’s initial proposal. 

“I agree that the urgency is there, but I also think that Jon has a very valid point. Just as [with] the cemetery committee, we need individuals to come to us and offer the opportunity where they’ve filled out and asked to be on that committee. You’ve got a great list and you’ve got the players, but there are outlying players as Jon has mentioned that might be very viable and have great insights for that committee,” Freeman said. “So as long as we’re not actually naming names and appointing people at this point, if we’re just going through … to develop the committee, I support the development of the committee but not naming specific individuals. They can fill out an application like the cemetery individuals did. I think that would be the process to move forward.”

Chuck Dickson, sitting in on his first meeting as an elected alderman, asked for some clarification on what the qualifications might be for potential task force members. 

“I think we need to provide the structure, too. I think there needs to be a bit more board input, perhaps. I’m hearing different things about whether this is a county task force, or a town task force. In my opinion, we’re the Town of Waynesville, I think we need to be concentrating on Waynesville,” said Dickson. “I don’t think there’s a problem with having a county representative, but the problems that have come to light are in Waynesville. I’m not hearing anything else in the rest of the county. The homelessness problem in the rest of the county is more hidden. I’m sure there are homeless people in Maggie, Clyde and Canton, but we are the ones that have the problem. It’s my opinion that the task force really ought to focus on Waynesville and perhaps if we are successful, we could be a model program.”

Dickson mentioned that there was a $25,000 grant available from the Dogwood Health Trust with a deadline of Jan. 15 that could help fund the group.

Despite the disagreement about the constitution of the group, Anthony Sutton — also in his first meeting as a newly-elected alderman — made a pair of motions to get things moving. 

The first motion, seconded by Freeman, was to approve the development of the homeless task force. The second was to authorize town staff to apply for the grant even though the task force hadn’t been fully established, but was underway. Both motions passed unanimously.

Caldwell said he’d hoped the task force could begin meeting sometime in January. 

Applications for those wishing to serve on the task force are due by Jan. 2, 2020. The Waynesville Board of Aldermen will next meet on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.

 

Be heard

Applications are currently being accepted from persons wishing to serve on the Town of Waynesville’s homelessness task force. Visit www.waynesvillenc.gov/current-vacancies or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to apply before Jan. 2. According to the town’s website, the number of positions available still hasn’t been determined, and the question of where one must reside — inside town limits, or not — hasn’t yet been settled either. 

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