“So all of that misinformation is a hundred percent false,” said Bill Guy, director of Open Door. “There’s no one that I know of in a position to actually make decisions that has even considered the idea of us closing our doors and in fact, the opposite has been discussed. If we’re going to do anything, we’re going to expand our services.”
Most importantly, Guy wants to avoid the “c-word” so as not to alarm clients and volunteers.
“Relocating, I think, is a more appropriate term,” he said. “So we’re trying to change that from ‘closing’ to ‘relocating.’”
Guy said the relocation was spurred by the building’s owners.
“There’s no animosity there or anger or anything like that,” he said of the decision to leave the Commerce Street space by mid-June. “They think it’s time to allow the local retailers and businesses in Frog Level to kind of have their opportunities to grow and be more prosperous. We’re obviously grateful for them allowing us to be there for the past, you know, 20-something years.”
The Open Door has been a fixture in Waynesville’s Frog Level district for decades; as a faith-based ministry it provides breakfast five days a week, lunch six days a week and dinner on weekends — a nice compliment to the free meals provided by Hazelwood’s Pathways Center every night.
A hot meal and cold drinks aren’t the only things provided to the area’s economically disadvantaged populations at the Open Door; also offered are boxes of take-home food, as well as limited financial assistance. Religious services also take place there.
The Open Door is largely supported by an associated thrift shop next door, called Second Blessing. Manager Deborah Kasbeer said that once The Open Door relocates, Second Blessing plans to expand into that space, perhaps doubling its size. Guy confirmed those plans.
“We’re going to increase the footprint to include in what’s now the dining room and the kitchen area, which we hope will also increase their sales, “ he said. “That will allow us to add more services.”
The kitchen equipment currently at The Open Door belongs to them, and will go with them when they vacate the space. As to where they’ll end up, Guy says he hopes it’s not far from the current location.
“The ideal thing for us, not to get too philosophical here, but it’s important that we stay somewhere around Frog Level, not too far that the people that we serve at The Open Door don’t have means to get there,” he said. “The further we move, the more challenging it’s going to be for them to get transportation because a lot of them walk. So we have a couple places within probably a couple of blocks of where we are right now that aren’t necessarily next door to retail businesses and or restaurant-type stores.”
Guy added that they’re also looking in Hazelwood, but previous reports of a partnership with Pathways are premature and overstated, according to Pathways Executive Director Mandy Haithcox.
“I don’t think we could pick all their services as they are now,” said Haithcox. “We serve the a lot of the same people and we want the best things for all of those people but it needs to be done in a way that is helpful for the community also. We’d be willing to work with Open Door and Long’s Chapel but there’s not been any formal conversations.”
Haithcox said there is plenty of unused capacity in Pathways’ commercial kitchen, which is mostly used in the afternoons to prepare dinner for the 60-odd people who show up most nights, but she doesn’t see the Open Door taking that over any time soon.
For one, the two service populations may not mix well — at Pathways, residents have to abide by strict rules that include abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Many clients of The Open Door have been banned from Pathways due to rule violations, and Open Door doesn’t drug test anyone, so mixing sober and non-sober populations seems to be a recipe for disaster.
Pathways’ kitchen could possibly be utilized during The Open Door’s transition to prepare meals that would be distributed off-site, perhaps in a food truck-style concept, but Guy says that they’re hoping for a seamless transition that doesn’t result in even a single day without being able to provide sustenance to its regulars.
If Open Door does remain in close proximity to Frog Level, where complaints from other business owners were heard loudly during the last municipal election, Guy said he hopes the new space will minimize concerns about loiterers and litterers.
“It’s never gonna go away totally, but I think you will see it minimized because the big thing is that while we do feed people, we don’t provide them with a space to kind of stay in and truly congregate throughout the day,” he said. “Hopefully wherever we move, we have the space to be able to do something like that and offer some sort of a community center where they can come in and not only eat, but also engage in fellowship such as watching TV relaxing on a couch, playing cards, having AA or NA meetings.”
That would keep more of The Open Door’s clients off the streets and out of trouble.
“If you provide people with that space, you keep them indoors and they don’t have a reason to go loiter outside, in the front of your facility,” he said. “The same thing goes with smoking. If you find a property that provides a good area for them to smoke that’s not in front of the building but maybe in back somewhere where it’s not that big of an issue, people might not complain about it. So yeah, there’s ways that you could mitigate all that if we stay in Frog Level because you’ll never get rid of that completely.”
Waynesville Mayor Gary Caldwell said the town and its newly minted homelessness task force would do as much as it could to help The Open Door.
“It is of great concern to have learned The Open Door soup kitchen is in need of a new location,” he said. “It is my expectation that the Homeless Task Force will address how this closure, along with other areas of concern, will impact our homeless population. I anticipate ideas and recommendations to be forthcoming from our new Homeless Task Force.”
Guy, who said he’s applied for a spot on the task force, said he’s as confident as anyone could be that there will be no lapse in services for those who frequent The Open Door.
“Hopefully I’ll be appointed to that task force and the conversation’s like this — we at The Open Door serve the most basic of human needs and which are typically physiological and that’s water, food and clothing. But the other very important basic need that’s not being met for a lot of people we serve are the housing needs,” he said. “Without those kinds of needs being addressed, people typically aren’t in a position to improve their situation, whether that’s dealing with their substance abuse issues or applying for a better job or even applying for a job, or getting their high school diploma. If you don’t address those basic human needs, people just kind of tend to stay where they are. We’re hoping this task force will be a part of that moving forward.”