Throughout this week a revolving group of dozen or more people is maintaining an encampment across the street from the Central Library in downtown Winston-Salem.
The tents, cardboard boxes, hand-lettered signs bearing Scripture and pot of chicken stew are all part of the Festival of Shelters, a gathering to highlight the experience of homelessness that is fashioned after the Hebrews’ time in the wilderness, as recalled in the Jewish Torah and Christian Old Testament.
The Rev. Russ Post-May of Anthony’s Plot, a Moravian intentional community, said the festival has provided an opportunity for un-housed and housed people to fellowship together and address some challenges that confront homeless people in Winston-Salem.
“We aren’t professionals,” he said. “We’re just a rag-tag group of people who sit down and have meals and have a gathering and talk with one another. We’ve heard some stories from people whose information might not be exactly right, but they at least have the opportunity to blow off some steam. We’ve also heard some of the same stories from different people, so that we know there must be some truth to it.”
Some of the common complaints center on the way that homeless agencies handle emergency overflow shelter, Post-May said. The complaints led to a meeting with the agencies and some dialogue.
“What if Bethesda [Center] called Anthony’s Plot every time they turned somebody down?” he said. “We’re saying, ‘We’ll give them another chance.’”
Post-May said First Baptist Church on West 5th Street will serve as an emergency overflow shelter from December through March. Two paid staff members and about 40 volunteers will be on hand to receive those seeking shelter during the cold months.
The group is also in discussion with library staff to provide free electricity so that homeless people can keep their mobile phones charged.
“There’s a level of hospitality there,” he said. “That was the initiative that was laid on our plates by folks who were being turned away at the bus station. There’s a sign warning that it’s ‘larceny of electricity’ if you try to plug in your cell phone there. I also understand that there are drug deals going on. There are people running their enterprises. There was also an issue with cell phones getting stolen. People would plug in their cell phones and then go across the room to the seating, and the bus station just got tired of dealing with it. I get that there were some real reasons for stopping services.”