A couple of cold October nights have already put this year’s Code Purple program to the test.
The initiative, a joint effort of local governments and nonprofit organizations, makes emergency shelter options available for Buncombe County’s homeless population on nights when the weather is forecast to drop below freezing. As presented to the county Board of Commissioners Nov. 15 by Jennifer Teague, Buncombe’s aging and adult services program manager, the Asheville-Buncombe County Homeless Coalition called the first Code Purple of 2022 on Oct. 15 — the first day this year’s program went into effect.
After evaluating the results of that first night, Teague said, the coalition decided to extend entry times for Code Purple shelters. While the original plan only allowed people to enter from 4-6 p.m., the revised rules allow entry until 8 p.m., with later entries accepted from hospitals, law enforcement, paramedics and nonprofit outreach programs.
Teague said the coalition also tweaked its approach to transportation access and medical clearance after the program’s first nights. A coordinating team will continue to meet and evaluate the plan to address any other concerns that arise.
The Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry is currently providing all 105 emergency beds available through Code Purple. Although the local Salvation Army had originally pledged to operate 16 beds, Teague said the nonprofit is no longer participating in the program due to a lack of capacity.
ABCCM alone is still providing more beds this year than the 78 available last year. Asked by board Chair Brownie Newman whether that number was adequate to meet the community’s need, Teague responded that the program did not max out capacity on either of its first two nights.
Another 40 emergency beds, which will be operated by four area churches, are anticipated to come online in December. Those spaces, along with an additional 30 beds at ABCCM’s Costello House, will be available every night throughout Code Purple, not just on nights with predicted freezing temperatures. The program is currently scheduled to run through the end of April.
New faces coming to reparations work
During her quarterly update to the board on the Community Reparations Commission, Assistant County Manager DK Wesley introduced a new project manager for the commission’s work and asked for input on filling vacancies among its members.
The group will now be managed by Christine Edwards of Charlotte-based consulting firm Civility Localized. She will take over from TEQuity, the consultants hired by the city of Asheville for $365,000 last September; a city staff report from Nov. 15 said TEQuity was leaving the project “due to capacity constraints” after its president, Debra Clark Jones, accepted a new position. Edwards stressed to the county board that the commission’s work groups will continue in the same direction but with a greater emphasis on efficient organization.
“We’re going to take the work that they’ve done over the past several months and set some structure around these recommendations that they are going to be putting together,” Edwards said. She plans to create standard processes around the commission’s data requests and work group recommendations, as well as encourage more frequent communication.
In addition to new management, the reparations commission will see new members appointed by the county. One of the group’s six county-appointed seats and both county-appointed alternate positions are currently vacant following several resignations. Buncombe will readvertise the vacancies, and the Board of Commissioners will select appointees for all three openings at a future meeting.
Wesley described the reparation commission’s current phase as “storming,” which she explained as a step in the team-building process that involves conflict as a group comes together. She said the reparations commission had spent about five or six months in this stage so far. “Though painful, especially played out in a sometimes public way, it’s necessary,” Wesley said.
These changes come amid the departure of county’s first chief equity and human rights officer, Rachel Edens. Edens was hired last November, and among her listed duties was implementing the county’s August 2020 reparations resolution. According to the Citizen Times, Edens was “separated from her employment” Oct. 27; county spokesperson Lilian Govus did not provide further explanation for the move.