Task force issues draft recommendations on homelessness
More than 18 months after its creation and just over 12 months since its first meeting, Waynesville’s Task Force on Homelessness finally has some answers on the status of homelessness in Haywood County, and the steps they’d like to take to address it.
“Well, it’s a draft, first of all, but I hope the public will appreciate all the hard work that we’ve done and that it does take into account how we help those who need homes as well as the community at large,” said Mandy Haithcox, a member of the task force and executive director of Haywood Pathways Center. Haithcox has worked in social services for 25 years, and in homelessness specifically for 12 years.
Data for the report were collected during interviews and listening sessions that involved more than 370 business owners, faith leaders, law enforcement officers, behavioral health providers and housing providers, as well as people who are actually experiencing homelessness.
As a whole, the recommendations package is called Waynesville Community CARES, an acronym for the five-part framework that will be subject to approval by the board of aldermen, after a public comment period and possible revisions.
One of the recommendations that will likely generate plenty of comment is the existing shelter ecosystem, and whether or not to expand it. Three options are presented in the report — maintain the current system, expand it by engaging in capacity-building, or develop an additional emergency low-barrier shelter.
Much of the package hinges on the town creating a position called Community CARES Director, as well as two neighborhood CARES outreach workers, who will be responsible for engaging with people experiencing homelessness, directing them to resources, tracking outcomes and reporting quarterly to the board.
“I think it’s something we’ll have to consider with great thought, and with coordination with the county,” said Waynesville Alderman Anthony Sutton, who serves on the task force. “I don’t think the problem is entirely Waynesville’s issue, so I think it’s going to take a community to get those positions. I’m personally open to funding those positions because I think it is better for the entire community. But I think it’s going to take a lot of community input and feedback.”
Kevin Ensley, chairman of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners, has followed the issue for years during his tenure on the commission, and said he’s supportive of the initiative to fund the CARES positions.
“I have been advocating that. I have to have my other commissioners come on board with it,” Ensley said. “We’re looking at Dogwood Trust to do some positions maybe in the jail, and I’m also thinking that maybe we can leverage them to help us a little bit, and I’m even thinking that maybe the county could chip in a little bit along with the town and with some of the non-profits. Maybe we can all work together to fund these positions.”
Unless something changes, the task force’s final meeting should be on Sept. 2. At that time, the draft recommendations should be close to being finalized. If that’s the case, they’ll be presented to the board of aldermen for approval in late September.