Downtown shelter to double space

Western Carolina Rescue Ministries plans to launch a $7 million construction project in May that will double the amount of space it has to provide services for homeless people and those battling drug and alcohol addictions.

A $1 million grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta puts the nonprofit about halfway to its funding goal for the project, according to Director Vic Howard.

The homeless shelter occupies three 1920s-era buildings on the western edge of downtown Asheville, near the intersection of Patton Avenue and Haywood Street. It provides 300 meals a day to homeless people and overnight shelter for 100 men, women and children every night, says Howard. The alcohol- and drug-addiction program has an additional 24 beds.

The planned four-story structure will be erected at the shelter’s current location (225 Patton Ave.). It will feature 85 beds for homeless men, 16 beds for homeless women and children, plus three family rooms, a chapel and a large dining room. Construction is scheduled to begin May 13, Howard reports.

The new building will enable the agency to improve its services, says board member John Parker. For example, the shelter now has to have three seatings at lunch and dinner to accommodate all those in need of a meal. The new dining hall, with seating for more than 100, should be able to accommodate most everyone at once, says Parker.

“It’s just amazing the impact we have on this community. Our budget is about $1 million a year, and we take that and turn that into about $4 million in services,” he notes. “I’ve never seen any organization do so much with so little.”

The new facility, says Howard, is needed because “the demand on our services is just so great,” and the current buildings, which once served as warehouses, are simply falling apart. The project, he emphasizes, will also help Asheville achieve its goal of ending chronic homelessness in the city by 2015.

“We were able to put 89 people to work last year, so we’re trying to move them off the streets and into shelter and into a job they can sustain,” says Howard.

Neighbors also praise the ministry. “We’ve never had a problem with them, and I think it’s a service that has to be provided” says Randy McKinney, vice president of McKinney Welding Supplies on Haywood Street.

Vic Shealy, president of Citizens Fuel Co., says he’s had a positive relationship for years with the shelter, which uses a portion of the company’s property for parking in return for providing mowing services.

“I think they do a wonderful job over there. Now, would I rather it not be right next door? Yes. Why? Because it creates some people just hanging around,” notes Shealy. “But they provide a real service to the community, and we’ve never had one problem with them.”

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