In partnership with Warren Wilson College’s Environmental Leadership Center, Xpress presents The Swannanoa Journal, short audio essays on regional environmental sustainability issues, written and recorded by WWC students.
In this edition, Heather Claypoole talks about homelessness and gender-equality advocacy group GetEQUAL NC.
I have always admired women who have fallen on hard times but succeeded in getting back on their feet. Finding your way back to the road of self-sustainability is difficult, but I wonder, what helps women find the strength to recover and get back up? Homelessness affects our community in a number of ways. It has an economic, environmental, and social impact on the Asheville area. Homeless encampments even pose an environmental hazard, but they are often the only choice. There is hope though. GetEQUAL NC is a branch of the national organization GetEQUAL that fights for legal and social equality for the gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, and queer community. GetEQUAL NC formed in December 2010, and is currently collaborating with the American Veterans (AMVETS) organization and Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM) to advocate and support homeless women and veterans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Angel Chandler works directly with GetEQUAL NC alongside Mary Counce and Alyce Knaflich of AMVETS to serve homeless women. Chandler finds working with the 40 women who come in and out of the shelter very fulfilling. Many times they are stepping in to a situation where a woman is close to being discharged from the shelter due to problems, and they come in and help stabilize the situation by offering support. Chandler added that the women they have partnered with are open to doing what it takes to get their lives back on track. Sometimes homeless people are stereotyped as individuals who are either drug and alcohol addicts or those who don’t want to work. But Chandler doesn’t find that to be the case. “The women are just like you and me. The women we help want very much to move forward and they work hard to make that happen.” Both Counce and Chandler are former social workers and have experience navigating the system. Chandler believes that “Most folks who are homeless have either been in the system one way or another their whole lives or they have just fallen on hard times and find themselves navigating a difficult and frustrating bureaucracy.”
Chandler explained that they directly serve the women in the shelter by cooking dinner for the entire house, sitting in on case management meetings, providing one-on-one support, advocating for the women, and assisting the women with navigating services such as veteran’s services for female veterans and low-income housing. Chandler said, “We want not only to be a support to the women, but to the shelter as a whole as well and to shelter staff who work very hard to provide services for the women to help them succeed.”
GetEQUAL NC is in desperate need of volunteers, especially during the holiday season. Paid staff are most often overwhelmed with a large case load and are unable to give each person the attention they need. Volunteers are needed to fill in the gaps so no one falls between the cracks. There’s a current needs list for the Steadfast House, a shelter for homeless women and female veterans, in Asheville on GetEQUAL NC’s website, getequalnc.org. If you’d like to volunteer or know anyone that needs help, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.