The local homeless population got a Valentine’s Day present when the Asheville City Council approved startup funding for a 10-year plan to end homelessness. The program is part of a larger federal initiative that both the city and county endorsed in principle in a January 2005 joint resolution.
But on Feb. 14, Council members moved from concept to cold cash, agreeing to allocate $15,000 to The Affordable Housing Coalition of Asheville & Buncombe County, the plan’s designated lead agency. Together with an equivalent amount from the county, the money will enable the coalition to hire and train a project coordinator who will serve as the liaison for participating local agencies and service providers.
The city’s contribution is coming out of federal Community Development Block Grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Additional funding will be sought to pay for actually housing the homeless.
Executive Director Philip Mangano of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness pitched the program to City Council back in 2004. The city’s Downtown Social Issues Task Force appointed a steering committee to explore the idea, and that group, in turn, tapped the housing coalition to handle the administrative duties.
The plan employs the “housing first” model, which calls for giving homeless people a place to live immediately and then following up with other needed services, rather than requiring clients to start drug treatment or get a job in order to be eligible for housing assistance.
Later in 2004, Jerome Jones, the chairman of the steering committee, told Council members that the program would focus on the chronically homeless, typically a small group that accounts for a substantial portion of whatever money a given community spends on its homeless population in the form of shelters, emergency-room care and law enforcement.
In Asheville, an estimated 36 people are the beneficiaries of more than a third of the roughly $2 million the city and county collectively spend on such services for the homeless each year, Jones reported at the time. Getting those folks off the street would create immediate savings for the community, supporters say.
Asheville and Buncombe County both approved a joint resolution endorsing the initiative in 2005.
But former Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower — who last year joined then Council member Joe Dunn in voting against adopting the plan — once again opposed the idea and questioned its effectiveness.
“I am strongly against this plan,” Mumpower declared. “I think it will distract us from more meaningful plans.”
Rather than fighting addiction, he argued, the 10-year plan puts its focus on housing, harking back to the “failed plans of the ’60s and ’70s.”
Council member Brownie Newman called Mumpower’s characterizations unfair, maintaining that the program “has the potential to make a real impact on our community.”
And Council member Robin Cape warned against taking a step backward on an initiative that has built up some momentum. “I don’t want to lose sight of the work that has gone into this project,” she said.
The funding passed on a 5-1 vote with Mumpower opposed (Council member Jan Davis was absent).
Made for you and me?
Council members postponed consideration of a resolution supporting a proposed statewide land trust after some city leaders voiced doubts about both the plan’s local relevance and City Council’s jurisdiction over it.
Proponents of the program are seeking such endorsements from local governments across the state to encourage the General Assembly to take the action needed to get a $200 million bond referendum on the ballot in November.
The referendum is part of a drive by the Land for Tomorrow Coalition, a group of North Carolina nonprofits seeking to protect land and historic sites statewide. The coalition projects a need for $200 million over the next five years to restore stream banks, support working farms, and preserve urban forests, parks and historic sites.
The Buncombe County Committee, a group headed by local attorney (and former Asheville mayor) Lou Bissette, is working with the legislative delegation in Raleigh to promote the program. But some on Council questioned how much it would actually do for the city.
“On a personal level, I am very interested in this, but it would not benefit Asheville in a unique way,” noted Newman.
Mayor Terry Bellamy agreed, saying she would not support legislation that does not directly affect Asheville.
“I think it does affect Asheville,” Cape responded. “There is a group of people across the state working hard on this. By signing onto it, we are giving them more of a voice.”
But with the stated objections signaling the resolution’s possible defeat, Cape withdrew her motion to adopt it, concurring with Vice Mayor Holly Jones‘ suggestion that the item be worked into Council’s legislative agenda (a shopping list of priorities the city sends to its representatives in Raleigh each year).
Mumpower’s motion to indefinitely postpone a vote on the resolution, seconded by Jones, passed on a 5-1 vote with Cape opposed.
Beginning Feb. 21, City Council will televise its work sessions. In the past, these meetings, held the third Tuesday of the month, have been conducted in a first-floor room that’s not equipped with television cameras.
Now they’re being moved to the regular Council chamber on the second floor of City Hall, where formal sessions (which will continue to be broadcast as well) are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays. The Asheville Channel (Channel 11 on Charter cable) airs Council meetings live (3 p.m. for work sessions, 5 p.m. for formal sessions) and again on the following Wednesday and Friday at 6 p.m.