Latest numbers show 500+ homeless people in Asheville

There are more than 500 homeless people in the city, according to an annual count done by local homeless-service agencies, Homeless Coalition officials announced yesterday. Amy Sawyer, the city’s Homeless Initiative Coordinator, noted that the count, down from last year, does not reflect the full population, which is expected to rise with tightening economic conditions.

The measurement of 509 homeless people is based on a nationally used method known as a point-in-time count, involves tallying up the number of homeless people, both on the street and in shelters, on a given day — in this case, Jan. 30, 2008. The Homeless Coalition is a partnership of city and county officials, along with agencies in the area that deal with the homeless issue.

“We had staff as well as community volunteers go out and actually manually count people sleeping on the streets and in other facilities,” Sawyer said. “We’d caution people from looking at it as a definitive answer. We only know who was homeless that night.”

The count had 58 children and 441 adults homeless. Of the total, 225 agreed to take surveys, revealing, among other things, that the average monthly income among them was $335 and that 50 percent got most of their income from some form of employment.

The survey’s purpose, Sawyer noted, “is that we’re trying to get a bigger picture. The total number has decreased from last year. But, in my estimation, that’s due to better methods of implementing the count.”

Among the homeless were 121 veterans, 181 chronic homeless, 158 who suffered from mental illness and 124 from chronic substance abuse, and 45 driven out by domestic violence (there’s some overlap between these numbers, as someone, for example, can be both chronically homeless and mentally ill).

Sawyer also said that outside factors could easily contribute to a rise in Asheville’s homeless.

“We really can’t ignore the larger environment — with economic slowdown, increasing housing costs, mental-health reform and even returning veterans — these are outside of the homeless-services sector, but they do affect people becoming homeless,” Sawyer asserted. “If someone experiences an episode of homelessness, our goal is to help them get housing before it becomes a way of life. But with the challenges in our larger social environment, we should expect more people becoming homeless.”

The Coalition is planning on another count in July, and eventually will use a running database called the Homeless Information Management System to track the number and nature of homeless people in Asheville. Currently, an estimated 12 percent of the homeless population is registered in the database.

“As more and more agencies come online, we hope to see the number in it increase,” Sawyer told Xpress.

The shelter capacity in Asheville is 258, just slightly over half of the January count. Sawyer said that, as part of the city’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, Asheville is pursuing various strategies, including moving people into housing and getting local veterans’ facilities to expand the number of beds.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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58 thoughts on “Latest numbers show 500+ homeless people in Asheville

  1. David Forbes

    A link to the survey is now up in the first paragraph of the article

  2. dave


    Do you really think 500 people in a town with 75,000 or so people constitutes a ‘decent constituency’? That is, er, less than 1 percent of the population?

  3. Consider DARN’s (Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors) voice & presence in downtown issues. I don’t know how many people pay the annual $30 to belong to DARN, but I would be willing to bet that 500 people would be a lot of residents to them. Are these homeless people not also a part of downtown residents and neighbors? As a matter of fact, with the exception of one couple, all of my neighbors are homeless. I live downtown and these people constitute my neighborhood. So while greater-Asheville may have 75,000 residents, downtown is much smaller and these people carry do in fact carry a constituency of our community.

  4. Jason Bugg

    I’m bald, and there are far more bald men in Asheville then homeless people. How about we get our voices heard? We are a “decent constituency”.

  5. Courtney

    “The measurement of 509 homeless people”

    “The count had 58 children and 441 adults homeless.”

    441+58=499. Who were the other 10?

  6. Bugg –

    Do the bald men (and women and children) of Asheville have a specific agenda that needs to be met?

    If so – let’s get together and discuss it!

  7. Yes, we require suntan lotion and freedom from the ridicule that we face everyday. It’s clearly the role of government to do something about it.

  8. 9-volt

    Of the 509 homeless, 145 of them have been in a Facility/Institution, often meaning Jail, in the past 30 days. So, it seems that the government has to do something about it whether they want to or not. Perhaps more efforts should be put into treating the causes rather than symptoms.

    Also worth noting:
    158 have mental illnesses
    121 are Veterans
    124 chronic substance abusers

  9. southern B

    Hey where is Department of Social Services for these Adults who need help. All that is known is that AB Tech has their DSS students take names and numbers and pass out flyers.

  10. Southern Son

    Department of Social Services puts an incredible amount of effort towards curing the problem of homelessness in Asheville, infinitely more than local business owners have done in teh recent years. Instead of sitting around and complaining about the problem of homelessness in Asheville, when was the last time any of you went to open a mental health clinic or an affordable rehab center? Not that an individual can build a rehab center by themselves, but where is the neighborly contributions to fix this serious problem?

  11. DonM

    Hello J-Bo,
    I’m not quite certain what your reference to D.A.R.N. was meant to convey, but to answer your question, we have under 150 paid households. As of last year’s annual business meeting in Sept it was 123. We also made a donation to Homeward Bound and are acutely aware of homeless folks in town. The donation, although small, represented roughly 13 percent of our then on-hand cash.

    Anyway, I invite you to have a look at the provided link. Are you interested in joining our group?

  12. Don –

    DARN is a great organization whose voice definitely has value and insight. I sincerely applaud the residents for their proactive organization and dedication to the sense of community. My only point in bringing the organization into this conversation was to point out how many downtown residents are not being represented at the community table.

    While the homeless are not always proactive in the community, it is not our right to judge their place in life. There will always be people on this path, and we can not with honesty believe we can solve the problem.

    Our duty as both active citizens and engaged community organizations should be to assist these people as individuals, assisting them into a quality of life that brings them out of the state of despair and into a opportunity where they can make the right personal choices for their own growth and development. It is only then they will be able to provide society valuable services that will give back to the community.

    I’ll look into joining the organization, although time and money are always on the tight end for me. I remain active in other roles.

  13. DonM

    Thank you for your response. I’ve always been somewhat puzzled over one thing concerning homeless folks anywhere, not just here. That is, how many are locals? How many came here because we’re a regular stop on the homeless circuit? I cannot seem to find anyone who has any demographics on them.

    With the recent change in season I’ve noticed that, like swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, activity at the bus station has really ramped up with “arrivals.” I believe we should help our own. I do not believe we should be a destination city for itinerants because we’re perceived as a “friendly” place to be for those folks. I do not refer to those unfortunate souls who find themselves in need of a hand up and will work toward getting back onto the productive side of society. I refer to the “lifestyle” homeless who could care less about being productive members of our little coffee-klatch here.

    I don’t have any answers. I just feel compassionate and helpful for the former and disapproval for the latter.

    Do you know of any demographics (local vs. itinerate) on our 500 souls? I think it’s important to how we should approach this issue.

    D.A.R.N. is always looking for new voices and opinions. Hope to see you at our next meeting!

  14. lumina

    i seem to remember that some time ago, city officials in some city (not related to asheville) were giving homeless persons cash and bus tickets to OTHER cities to ‘clean up’ their streets. if asheville is perceived as a lucrative, friendly or otherwise hospitable environment for folks living on the street (tourist season could mean both better donations by panhandlers as well as more pleasant conditions weather-wise when living and sleeping outdoors), it’s feasible that most come seasonally from other places.

  15. southern B

    Hey southern son no relation, it is not up to the bsns owners in this town to help the homeless,
    I remeber every time i get paid uncle sam, takes what is referred to as tax dollars, it is up to DSS to take care of this problem.

  16. DonM

    I’ve heard that as well but I cannot say first-hand whether or not that it’s true. But, it addresses exactly what I want to know–among the homeless, who’s local and who’s itinerate.

    I feel it’s an important distinction to make when apportioning the apparently limited resources we have.

  17. Trey

    How compassionate…

    Local homeless = cool, let’s help ’em

    Out of town??? homeless = screw ’em

    Hmmm…. wonder why there will ALWAYS be homeless people???

  18. lumina

    “Hmmm…. wonder why there will ALWAYS be homeless people???”

    because there will always be people who think that the homeless are somehow deserving of their fate &/or make the choice to be there and don’t need help &/or came from the wrong place and don’t need help &/or … well, you get the idea.

    we don’t seem on the verge of any sudden bursts of humanity or selflessness, especially in asheville … even the WORKING poor are looking down upon here …

  19. lumina

    (and i might note, that there were a surprising number of working poor living homeless, according to these survey results)


  20. southern B

    Lumina, or maybe they went to war and when they got back nobody would help. Maybe someone put them there, lots of reason for homeless, lets hope it does not end up that way for those writing here.

  21. DonM

    There will always be homeless people because it’s part of the continuum of human existence. Just as there will always be “Warren Buffetts” and every one in between.

  22. It takes about 6000 voters and 4 candidates to control city council, so the homeless make up about 8.3% of the needed constituency, meaning that every homeless person needs at least 11 voting, antizoning, allies to build the 10 million or so housing units that they need to house all the people who would outbid them and then themselves. However I have been trying for years and getting homeless people to vote in city elections is like pulling teeth even though those oval “I voted” stickers do get you better treatment by police. And the candidates know this all too well.
    What might be more possible is for 500 homeless people to vote in Biltmore Forest, which only takes 118 votes to control, and take that town over instead, or if Warren Wilson ends up in Swannanoa, maybe the students can take that town over and bring the homeless community there instead of Asheville, because 6000 votes is just too many, which makes Asheville too big a place for us to try to control.

  23. I heard from an authority that the proportion of homeless people who were born in the area is about the same as the proportion of other residents who were born in the area.
    Also Howard Stone, head of Homeward Bound opposes ZONING! and it was ZONING!! that cited Zaccaeus House as well!!
    But influx, both homeless and other, is part of the reason why housing the homeless of Buncombe will require 10 million housing units and not just 500.

  24. Oh, and Asheville, like other cities, gives out one way bus tickets. And yes, it makes all the sense in the world for homeless people to snowbird. I would too, and did when I was homeless.
    I became homeless for a few months when I assisted a domestic violence survivor and fled the wrath of her abuser who would otherwise have known where I lived.
    If DARN are ZONERS, then they are part of the problem and not part of the solution. And some of the 10 million needed housing units will have to go in City-County Plaza and on the Magnolia tree.
    Remember that the Windsor Hotel was not built as affordable housing either, it depreciated into affordability when new places were built for middle class residents, and it would have stayed depreciated if enough new middle class housing had been built.

  25. nuvue

    Let’s see, how many rooms at the Ellington? Maybe we can build a new high rise for the homeless (HRFTH). Pack square has a nice lot, ripe for development

    Don M, yes they are sent to and fro….
    After a hurricane in the Virgin Is. all of a sudden there were about 20 new homeless folks. Seems Miami had rounded some up and sent them with some relief supplies…. they were supposed to be “help” we rounded them back up and sent them to St. Thomas…..

  26. dee

    I might know the answers to some of the questions asked above if you’ll bear with my writing style today. I’m not feeling so hot.

    – Some homeless people who are working are on the waiting list for public housing or Section 8 assistance or other assistance to get housing. This can take months and the people may be staying in shelters or living on the streets in the meanwhile.

    – Yes, there are transient homeless who follow the weather patterns. I met some last fall who said they would be “heading south” when it turned cold. This is only my impression, but the people like this that I met usually camped out, seemed fairly self-sufficient and mostly consumed resources like food and use of showers. They often were military veterans. They often had small pensions and didn’t seem like a huge drain on the system.

    – How long does a person have to be here before they qualify as a local? I met a guy recently who moved to Asheville around two years ago then got sick shortly after with diabetes and has been very ill and in and out of work since then. He had just become homeless about a week before when I talked to him.

    (It seems a little ironic to me to talk about “taking care of our own” when so many people in Asheville are transplants from other places.)

    – Asheville has a VA hospital; I can’t speak for every city with a VA hospital, but I have seen other places, like New Orleans, where a VA hospital means there are going to be homeless veterans in the city.

    – Asheville has drug rehab and paychiatric facilities, so many people from all over western NC and other nearby states as well come here for those services. Think any of them end up staying here and eventually end up homeless?

    I am seeing atrocious spelling errors in what I’ve written above. I’ve tried to correct them, but I’m house sitting and trying to type around a cat perched on my chest.

    Oh, can someone explain to me what DSS does for the homeless aside from food stamps, Medicaid, and perhaps referring people to other agencies? I just don’t know exactly what else they do in that area. Thanks.

  27. southern B

    So dee,while the homeless sleep on the streets waiting for a place the police are employeed to arrest to give then a plae to say. beside giving food stamps, medicaid i guess there ok for you huh? your remark about, What do you mean by being a drain? do get that one. maybe not a drain for you. If you were born here you will never be consider a local. One thing you need to learn. Yes a local’s cousin will get help before any one else will, digest that one. Guess who in DSS?

  28. 9-volt

    The Ellington site or Pack Square would be terrible locations for affordable housing. The property value of land in the heart of the downtown is so high that it is nearly impossible to develop anything deemed affordable. Very dense affordable housing has proven to be a horrible solution (Bartlett Arms or any large section 8 housing in Asheville). Mixed incoming housing in a 2 mile radius of urban areas along a mass transit line are where affordable housing efforts should be focused, not in a high rise in the center of downtown.

  29. dee

    If anyone can interpret the first four lines of the above comment it would be much appreciated. I think I get the gist of the last part of the comment.

  30. nuvue

    I was being sarcastic, sorry if it is offensive,
    I hate to see the ashevegas skyline change, The best view of town is framed by the tunnel as you exit heading west. I take the tunnel whenever possible because of that view. (also cuz when they were blasting and chewing at Beaucather mtn. it was horrendous) It did alleviate major traffic jams though.

  31. sassy squirrel

    nuvue, your hrfth ‘high rise for the homeless’ idea was a miserable failure in Chicago also, namely the infamous Cabrini Green. 3 blocks from the “rock ‘n’ roll McDonalds” it was such a cesspool of degraded forgotten people, communal hatred, and violence that the police wouldn’t even go there. Not a good idea. Many of the ‘residents’ were moved to medium and low density housing and their fate was almost instantly transformed into a hopeful light filled future.
    I grew up in Chicago, and there is a huge homeless population in that city, unfortunately there will never be an end to the issue. It’s not a disease that can be eradicated, like small pox. People will always give up, people will always fall victim to mental illness, people will always find themselves without shelter. Only with never ending compassion and the love of all of humanity will these individuals find refuge from the harshness of their situation. The ignorance of the people who harm these individuals, the myopic nature of a society built on money and power will be the only fuel for the strife of the less than fortunate. The answer is love and compassion for humanity, not spare change or sky rise tenements destined for condemnation.


    The homeless situation is a direct barometer of the economy, did I say economy? That presupposes that the U.S has one of those!

    The ranks of the homeless will be growing and expanding shortly, to include lower middle class workers, who hitherto, were comfortably domiciled in trailer parks, like good little slaves, who were functional tax paying U.S. citizen serfs.

    Conspicuously absent from the article, were the role of the government run 501c3 whore house churches, who historically before 1953, were rather active in trying to alleviate the eternal homeless plaque, that is, before Lyndon Johnson, created them into Federal corporations, under the IRC 501c3 corporate tax code.

    Why aren’t they active in solving this problem?
    Are they too busy paying their cholesterol laden government preachers, attired in Armani suits, exorbitant 300k a year salaries, whilst putting on Broadway style productions, repelte with a cast of 500, for the pagan holiday of Christmas, in their multi million dollar SIN A GOG’s of Satan, in order to help out with this beleaguered element of humanity? Where is the love I say??? Where is republican Jesus in all of this?

    In addition, of course, as Tim pointed out, there is the Federal run, local government, who are destroying and interfering with any positive efforts made in this area, like the Zaccheus House debacle, whose operators, are the victims of a mammoth Federal Municipal code, enforced by local government bureaucrat’s, who have nothing better to do, than enforce tedious Pharisaical laws, on a class, who cannot defend themselves against Roman Civil administrative law.

    Sneak previews of up coming attractions, the homeless ranks will be swelling as the worldwide economic depression and collapse the U.S. IE Babylon the Great, gets into full swing in June of 08.
    Can you say tent cities and soup lines?

    George Washington said America would cease to exist when its people “sold their birthright for a pot of pottage” IE soup. The first act of the government was to create soup lines in the great depression and then brand the American People like cattle, with a 9-digit socialist slave number, which they are only to happy to use and divulge, in order to receive more benefits and crumbs from the governments treasury and slop trough.

    Like Esau, whom God hated, sold his birthright too, for a pot of pottage. Translated when you eat at the government trough and receive its benefits, you sell your constitutional guaranteed rights, for a pot of pottage.

    My guess is the government will address the homeless problem shortly, when most of its population becomes homeless. In exchange for soup. The American sheeple will take fluoride-laden vaccines, designed to kill them within 5 years, which is a part of the Agenda 21 population reduction. In the meantime, they will take a biochip, so they might be tracked and controlled like the governmental pieces of property they really are.
    What’s your favorite soup?
    Good day

  33. 9-volt

    I’m not connecting the dots here. Why does zoning = homeless?
    I think the reason homeless people typically live in urban and therefore typically zoned areas is because there are a density of services available – whether it be dumpster diving or social services programs. Should we let out of town developers sprawl all over our farms and mountains so we can avoid homeless people?

  34. dee

    @alan7 or anyone who knows, do homeless people have a problem registering to vote since they don’t have a permanent physical address?

  35. So long as they have stayed at a shelter, they technically have a physical address that can be registered to vote.

    Power to the people.

  36. dee

    Yes that’s true if they’re at a shelter, but lots and are on the streets or live in tents. Good point about the shelters though.

  37. JBO,

    Just curious. Do you care for the homeless as individuals, or only as a group?

    It kinda seems like you only care about them as much as you can use them to further your own ‘populist’ agenda.

    Out of these five hundred, how many want to remain homeless? How many dont give a squat about voting? how many are drunk right now? How many are single moms who are working poor?

    Let’s not forget they are not all ‘victims’, nor do they all care for your ‘populist’ pretensions.

    Power Bill to the People.

  38. Sammule –

    I don’t attempt to follow any agenda, populist or otherwise. I see people as individuals bound together by circumstances into groups. I never stated anywhere that any of the homeless are victims. Every one of them is a person who makes personal choices and is given individual opportunities.

    As I said, my entire neighborhood consists of homeless people. Most my neighbors live in their cars and they are HAPPY with that. They work and live and are content in their life habits. I think that is great as it is more than many with homes and careers can say. The people who choose the path to be homeless should be respected in their choices. They are not over-consumerist rat-racing dog-eat-dog world types. They have a much simpler and often complete view & understanding of the world.

    However, in this conglomerate group of 500 there are also people who do suffer from mental illness and debilitating addiction. Too crazy to hold down a job and are not crazy enough to be locked away as dangerous. These are people who do need help, and the only ‘agenda’ should be to assist them. A lot of times these shelters are dangerous places where the people get beat up and their packs with their few possessions stolen. There isn’t even enough room at our shelters to take in the folks who a truly desperate and living on the street. From time to time I’ll let a few camp on my porch with blankets during the winter because there was no room at the inn, so to speak.

    I was homeless myself for a brief period (not in Asheville but in a much more dangerous and impoverished city) and what causes a lot of crime is despair. Lack of hope and feeling as if no one cares gives one the sense that you have no future. As I stated earlier to Don, those who fall into homelessness not by choice but by circumstance – those are the people you can reach out to and then provide opportunity for them to make the right personal choices. People who choose to be homeless, you have to respect and regard them as equal. Those who are sick and abused and have no other course but to live on the street, you have to smile and love them as equal as well. If we lived in a perfect world we could provide mental health treatment for every PTSD vet and touched soul who live on street. If we lived in a perfect world we’d have enough shelter spaces and a enough money to provide alcohol and drug rehab options to every addict on the street. If we lived in a perfect world a lot of the people who are homeless due to circumstance wouldn’t be.

    Nonetheless, each and every one of these 500+ people is a individual who not only deserves but is guaranteed the equal right to vote their individual voice in our sacred process of liberty and democracy.

  39. Elijiah Goldberg

    Dop you suppose we have so many homeless here because Asheville has become a cool place to live, even for the unemployed? They’re talking up in NYC and Philly: “hey Asheville is cool. they will feed and house us. got a good thing going down there.” The unexpected consequence of “helping” the homeless is we get more coming in every day. Will Pritchard park hold them all? Nope. But I guess everyone wants to “retire” here, eh? In NYC we have a solution for this problem. We give them a bus ticket and say “go south”.

  40. Elijah –

    I know – I lived in Reading, PA which was one of the most dangerous and destitute cites in America, thanks to the glorious Mayor Giuliani. He gave everyone with an addiction or a mental illness a bus ticket south. Guess where the China Line bus stops in-between Philly and NYC? Good ole Reading, PA – home to the famous Monopoly Railroad. Similar to how Asheville is a vortex for creative potential, that city is a vortex of despair and degradation. Anyone who lives there gets sucked into a ghetto life-style. Shootings, homelessness, severe addicts and hard-drug trafficking were something I witnessed constantly. The entire city had a real sense of hopelessness. The only positive aspect there is the realization that being poor makes people truly equal in that aspect of society.

    By the way – Pritchard Park is actually on the verge of being a really decent park. There are plans to start organizing Arts events there and it is a pretty positive hangout spot for the creative community.

    Helping the homeless does not mean the city has to allow them the ability to conglomerate and hang out, spreading the notion that “being homeless in Asheville is cool” – We can only help those who want to help themselves.

  41. dee

    I like Pritchard Park, too. I wish it had more flowers and maybe some ground cover in it, though, instead of all that mulch.

    Since the Deco Gecko was installed, it just emphasizes how dull and brown the park looks. It has potential, though.

    >from EG’s comment: “hey Asheville is cool. they will feed and house us”. I’ve heard transient homeless around Asheville say “well, if you’re homeless you will never starve in this town” but I have certainly never heard anyone say anything similar about housing.

    Even though Asheville has a Ten-Year Plan to end homelessness, it also has expensive housing and a “renter’s market” as far as apartments go. I met one woman last fall who had gotten her Section 8 vouchers but still ended up living in a shelter for about three to four more months until she could find an apartment that would accept her vouchers. She was working full-time too, btw, but at a low wage rate.

    It would be interesting to know at what rate the homeless DO get housed (of those who want to be housed, that is.)

    I hope y’all are enjoying your spring weather. I’m house/cat sitting in northern MD this month and the daffodils are just beginning to bloom here.

  42. Zoning reduces the supply of rental housing, and increases the demand if it maintains beauty. Both reduced supply and increased demand increases rents, and when rents increase more people can’t afford rents and become homeless. Therefore zoning causes homelessness.
    And Cabrini Green should never have been torn down. Instead, uninhabitable apartment units should have been auctioned off to the highest bidder, for pennies if necessary, to be reconditioned or used for storage or small businesses at the sole discretion of the buyers, while inhabitable units remained subsidized, producing mixed use buildings.

  43. terry m

    there would be far less homeless if companys would hire ex-felons. i’ve been looking every day for work for 1 month and have 40 applications in. whats wrong with people????

    • troy arbogast

      some restaurant chains such-as arby’s will not hire anyone with misdemeanors. i have 3 misdemeanors that i received for being homeless. i have a criminal justice degree that i cant use right now.

  44. troy arbogast

    is it a ten year plan to keep locking homeless people up for trespassing, panhandling (which violates the constitution), and open containers? is it a ten year plan to allow the BID to report homeless people as criminals for being in downtown? this article is false.

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