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Waynesville homeless task force foundering

Waynesville’s Board of Aldermen considers the formation of the homeless task force in December, 2019. Cory Vaillancourt photo Waynesville’s Board of Aldermen considers the formation of the homeless task force in December, 2019. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Waynesville’s homeless task force, now rocked by resignations and dissention, failed to meet a deadline to present recommendations to the board of aldermen and now appears adrift and rudderless without a consensus or a clear direction forward. 

“We joined this Task Force to help the homeless population in Waynesville, but as it appears to me this has now ‘gone south,’ if you will,” wrote task force member Dale Burris in a Sept. 4 email to task force members. “My time is up, so I will now go back to work and help people here in Haywood County that had a home and the force of nature took it away.”

Back in July, the task force issued a set of recommendations  after 18 months of interviewing nearly 400 stakeholders to include businesspeople, law enforcement officials and behavioral health providers, among others. 

An Aug. 5 meeting to gather community input was canceled due to COVID-19 exposure of one of the task force members, but feedback was gathered through an online survey and an in-person drop-in presentation on Aug. 26. 

When the task force met on Sept. 5 to consider the feedback to the task force’s recommendations, survey data and member feedback showed there was anything but consensus on the recommendations. 

One task force member speaking on background said that there was “resounding opposition” from the public and much of the task force to certain elements of the plan. 

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Indeed, one of the recommendations — a series of options on increasing shelter capacity — was voted down and won’t appear in the final recommendations, whenever those do arrive. 

In addition to Burris’ apparent resignation, another task force member, Nate Cartwright, resigned during the meeting, and Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Davis followed suit a day later. 

“I have given all I can, and I did not feel like it was productive,” Davis told The Smoky Mountain News Sept. 7. “I wish the task force much success, but I felt like my energy could be better used in other ways in the community. Had I felt I could have made a difference moving forward, I would have continued to serve, but I didn’t feel that I could.” 

Davis is a prominent figure in the local nonprofit ecosystem, serving as the executive director of social services agency Mountain Projects for 31 years. She’s also been active on similar boards dealing with homelessness, drug abuse and especially affordable housing. 

Waynesville Alderman Anthony Sutton, who serves on the task force, said he didn’t attend the meeting because he felt that voting on the recommendations would be a conflict of interest, since he’d eventually have to entertain the recommendations as an alderman. 

Sutton did say he felt it was OK to serve on the board and help steer it but has been cautious about inserting his opinions into the mix. He also pushed for the task force to be more adherent to Robert’s Rules of Order. 

The Sept. 2 meeting was supposed to be the final meeting of the task force, but since recommendations weren’t approved for presentation to town aldermen, there will be at least one more. 

Task force members voted to extend their service by 45 days, as Chair Dr. Amy Murphy-Nugen now attempts to find something the task force can agree on and send to aldermen for deliberation. 

The delay will likely push town consideration of recommendations to late October, almost two years after a forum hosted by SMN  revealed homelessness to be a major campaign issue for Waynesville’s elected representatives. 

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