A joint county and city proposal
to locate a multi-services center for homeless people on South Wilmington Street got some blowback from residents at the Central CAC Monday evening.
The proposed center will replace the Oak City Outreach Center's weekend meals service, as well as provide a "one-stop" services center for homeless people seeking resources, plus a twenty-five bed shelter for single women without children. The site the county has been looking at is located right next to the 234-bed Wilmington Street Men's Shelter, which has been operating since 2001.
Though Wake County deputy manager David Ellis emphasized at the meeting that no final decision has been made—and that four other sites he wouldn't disclose are under consideration—residents had concerns about a new site concentrating homeless and transient people in and near residential neighborhoods, Chavis Park and Shaw University, and about locating a women's shelter right next to a men's. Southeast Raleigh is also slated for redevelopment, and the city is studying how to make South Wilmington Street more attractive as a gateway into downtown.
"I am very concerned," says Virginia Talley, a Southeast Raleigh resident who works with homeless men and women through her church. "I can see the things going on when they leave [the church] between the women and the men...I see some things, we have two parking decks, a whole lot of things are going on. We have a dumpster on our premises and behind that dumpster, have mercy Jesus I see some things go on. So let's think about safety, number one. You don't want to put those women in harm's way."
She added that Southeast Raleigh residents are trying to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
"We don't need anybody coming to our door, sleeping on our porches, breaking in our homes," she said. "There are good people who are homeless who wouldn't do that but you have to think about the ones who are not so good. See if you can find another facility not on South Wilmington Street, but somewhere else across town where women can be a lot safer."
"I see no value in trying to locate homeless people in downtown when it is really clear that they are not welcome," said Central CAC chair Lonnette Williams. "They are abused, they are mistreated. They are discouraged from being in the area, what is the point?"
While residents argued the city's homeless population could be served just as well any where else in Raleigh, including on vacant, government-owned properties on Capital Boulevard, county and city officials had wanted the new multi-services center to be located close to transportation.
Ellis said he envisions the center also providing credit repair and employment services, health and nutrition services, behavioral healthcare services, as well as facilities to meet peoples' basic needs like showers and bathrooms.
"The nice part about this is we can respond to community needs, so as we evolve whatever the community's needs are can happen," said Wake County Housing Program manager Annemarie Maiorano. She agreed with a resident who suggested the site could be a part of larger human services campus in the area to balance needs for homeless people and services for the surrounding community.
"That's really the vision of this, is a campus that's not only going to serve the needs of the homeless population," she said. "If we get this right and have this way of placing people more quickly than we have now, we'll reduce the time of street homelessness and be able to provide other services."
Resident Anne Franklin said she thinks it's important to distinguish the social aspect of what the Oak City Outreach Center offers from the sheltering service of what is being proposed.
"There is a social setting, people enjoy seeing one another, they have a meal and might spend the afternoon visiting with one another," she said. "That is a need people have that doesn't fit in a human services context...I am not thinking a new human services campus is the best match with that location. I think the whole idea of a specialized human services campus should be challenged."
CAC vice chair Will Marks said it is "time to show this community a serious proposal that has an overview, that says this is the size of the problem, this is how the problem is going to be dealt with, these are the services that we propose to deal with these problems, these are the track records of these services, this is the efficacy of this particular provider."
"It sounds like this a plan that is made for the number that is OK today, but there are already things in play that might increase the need," he said. "There is a possibility that this particular project could be in conflict with what's being developed."