Homeless people seeking emergency shelter forced to sleep in chairs

About 30 men slept on mats on the floor of a gymnasium at First Baptist Church on Fifth Street in Winston-Salem when the church opened an emergency overflow shelter on Wednesday.

Bethesda Center for the Homeless, a non-profit agency that receives federal funding through the city of Winston-Salem to provide overflow emergency shelter services, has acknowledged that on some nights in December and January it had to resort to having people sleep in chairs in a day room because of a lack of proper permitting.

Peggy Galloway, the agency's executive director, said she felt sad about what happened. She acknowledged in a prepared statement today that because of Bethesda Center is not up to code the nonprofit is "ineligible" to provide overflow service in-house.

A consortium of groups collaborating to provide services to homeless people had initially agreed that First Baptist Church on Fifth Street in downtown Winston-Salem would serve as the site for the overflow shelter, with clients checking in at Bethesda Center. But the church was under renovation through the end of December, preventing implementation of the plan. Representatives of the groups agreed that lapses in communication set back the operation.

A ice storm that blasted the Piedmont Triad on Jan. 25 had churches and homeless advocates scrambling to get a viable shelter in place. First Baptist opened the doors to its gymnasium on Wednesday, providing a place for about 30 men to sleep on mats laid down on the floor. The shelter will remain open until at least the end of this month, organizers say.

The Rev. Russell May, a pastor with the Moravian social outreach group Anthony's Plot, said many of the groups involved in providing homeless services in Winston-Salem must take responsibility for the lapse in service and breakdown in communication.

"Anthony's Plot owns the failures for the overflow shelter because we were part of the conversation back in August," he said. "We lost our place in the conversation."

May added that members of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Council on Services for the Homeless, known familiarly as "the homeless council," and others who attended its bimonthly meetings were also aware of the problems at Bethesda Center.

The homeless council oversees all homeless assistance programs in Winston-Salem that are funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and is responsible for coordinating services and eliminating duplications. The council makes recommendations as to how federal funds should be spent, but the city gives final approval for the grants and contracts with nonprofits to provide the services.

David W. Harold, chairman of the homeless council, said he had been aware that homeless clients had been forced to sleep in chairs on occasion during the 2011-2011 cold-weather season, but that he only recently learned about the situation occurring in the past two months.

"That is not the way we want things to work," he said.

Tim West, the city employee who is responsible for compliance monitoring on the federal grant, said he only became aware last week that overflow shelter guests were sleeping in chairs.

The grant provides up to $10,000 to Bethesda Center for overflow emergency shelter services, which the agency receives through request for reimbursement. Galloway said she hired a monitor, who works for about $8 an hour on an as-needed basis. To date, she said the program has incurred about $1,600 in costs.

"I would think at the end of the day you would want everyone to have a place to lay their heads, but I believe the most important issue would be to have people out of the elements," said Ritchie Brooks, the city's director of community and business development. "It's very difficult to plan for all situations. You want everybody to be able to have a place to lay their heads, but that may not always be an option."

Look for our the full story on the emergency overflow shelter program in Winston-Salem in our print edition on Feb. 6.

1 comment:

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