“Every time it is cold and I go into my own house, I think, 'It is not OK that people in our community are sleeping outside tonight,’” says Emily Ball, director of community engagement at Homeward Bound of Asheville.
With 482 people already housed and an 89 percent retention rate, Homeward Bound uses the housing-first model. “It is going to be really difficult for you to get employment or get sober or get your mental health sorted out or get healthy while you don't know know where you're sleeping tonight and it is February in Western North Carolina,” Ball explains.
Once people are in homes and have a basic level of stability and safety, Ball says Homeward Bound works with the individuals to become self-sustaining.
“If there are things in your life that would prevent you from staying in housing — like a severe, untreated mental illness, that has gotten you kicked out in the past — then we want to work with you on getting connected to mental health care so that you can maintain your housing long-term,” she says.
In order to find grant money to get people into housing, Homeward Bound considers factors including income and likelihood someone will be self-sustaining in six months, 12 months, or if they have disabilities that may prevent them from ever being self-sufficient. Homeward Bound staff usually find out this information when people come to the A HOPE Day Center, one of the programs they run; it is Western North Carolina's only day center for people experiencing homelessness.
“A HOPE provides basic services, showers, mail and storage to folks,” Ball explains. “When people come in for access to A HOPE, they are also talking to staff members and trying to figure out of these half-a-dozen avenue we have into housing people, is there one that will work for you and be a permanent solution.”
— Megan Dombroski is a freelance writer, UNCA graduate and health advocate.