Residents weigh in on proposed East Asheville homeless shelter

TALK ABOUT IT: City of Asheville staff members respond to questions from community members during an Aug. 12 virtual meeting about the benefits and potential challenges that a low-barrier shelter may have for nearby residents and people experiencing homelessness. Screen capture courtesy of the city of Asheville

News that Asheville’s homeless residents may receive new support from the city — in the form of $9.75 million for an emergency shelter in East Asheville — was met with both support and concern from members of the public during the second of two community meetings, held virtually on Aug. 12.

The city is currently under contract to purchase the Ramada Inn 148 River Ford Parkway, for conversion into a low-barrier shelter with a minimum of 110 beds. While Asheville has contracted with the hotel since April to provide temporary shelter for homeless residents, the permanent operation would provide additional congregate space for crisis referrals from law enforcement, emergency medical services, 24/7 access, medical care, mental health resources and food and laundry services.

Emily Ball, who leads Asheville’s coordination with community homelessness organizations, explained that the shelter is specifically aimed at serving people who do not fit eligibility requirements for the city’s existing shelters, such as having proper identification or being sober from drugs or alcohol. She noted that 116 of the 527 people recorded as experiencing homelessness in the city’s 2021 Point in Time Survey were unsheltered, indicating a demand for new shelter solutions.

“We haven’t had the type of shelter available that best meets the needs of this particular subset of the population,” Ball said.

While each of the dozen speakers at the meeting commended city leaders for taking steps to help Asheville’s homeless residents, some who were also residents at the River Ridge and Verde Vista apartment complexes, both less than a quarter-mile away from the Ramada Inn, voiced concern about the proposed shelter’s location.

Tamera Pierson, assistant manager at River Ridge, said that she and the complex’s residents have noticed increased trespassing, vandalism and property crime since the temporary shelter started operating in April. “We also have had about eight car break-ins just between May 2021 and July,” she said.

“I work in community mental health, so I can totally appreciate [that] we do need resources for homeless individuals in our community,” added resident Leila Allen. “The other side of the coin is that, being a mom and a resident of River Ridge, I am concerned when we do find drug paraphernalia on our walks around the neighborhood or up to businesses and I’m with my kids. It is a safety concern.”

Ball noted that the city planned to include fencing and additional lighting around the facility and around-the-clock security. The city’s $9.75 million spending on the shelter, to be funded from its $26.2 million in federal American Rescue Act funds, would include the purchase and conversion of the hotel and three years of operating expenses. City staff would provide oversight and support for the shelter but contract with outside groups to manage and run the facility.  A request for proposals for a shelter operator was released Aug. 6.

Asheville City Council is expected to hear a presentation and vote on whether to approve the shelter during its meeting of Tuesday, Aug. 24. Should the shelter be approved, operations could begin as soon as spring 2022.


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14 thoughts on “Residents weigh in on proposed East Asheville homeless shelter

  1. Lou

    This is certainly a good first step to providing for the less fortunate in an area filled to the brim with tourists and their dirty money. Hope they will consider adding funding for financial counseling, job training program referrals, and a community garden that all residents can help maintain for fresh produce provision. It is wise to remember that many homeless were once just like you and me…anything can happen.

  2. MV

    Hopefully, local officials will also see the wisdom in protecting/investing in some ecological interests near our river and parks…I support some housing decisions, but believe that we live outdoors as well.

  3. G Man

    Did anybody notice that the price tag went up by over 3 million dollars in 2 month’s time? Annual operating costs were estimated at 3 M. Has that changed?

    We could actually build a lot of houses for 12.75 million dollars and put a bunch of people to work in the process. I have to wonder whose pocket(s) all that money ends up in, since it won’t be used to create jobs and salaries for local workers.

    • Missdi

      I totally agree! Here’s an idea ; $affordable housing$ for people who actually work. Where in Asheville can you find affordable housing besides in public housing? People who only make minimum wage cannot afford $1,200 month rent. Affordable, for whom? I’ve heard this affordable jawing for years. Maybe when quit working and become homeless, then we will have affordable (free) housing.

  4. Chris Hancock

    It’s about safety! If we want this area to maintain it’s status as a tourist destination something must be done to stop our city council. Already, my family and visitors from out of town can’t walk downtown or stop at a traffic signal without being verbally assaulted. My neighbors in East Asheville have reported homeless people knocking on their door in the middle of the night. The city council “defunded” our police. Now violence is at an all time high and the police don’t have the man power to enforce traffic safety. Have you noticed drivers blatantly flaunting traffic regulations designed to keep our family’s safe?

    Why not support the police with pay raises instead of funneling money to the homeless? Now the city council wants the police to help manage a hotel for vagrants?

    Our Asheville economy depends on the tourism industry. When the word gets out that we can not provide safety for residents and visitors, then what?

  5. A friend of all

    Suggest we give the money to Habitat for Humanity so they can build more homes for those that work to live in Asheville

  6. Gordon

    The should delay the vote until they have all the answers.

    City has NOT identified a suitable organization which has the appropriate skill level and staffing to handle this operation. ABCCM is the only partner who has expressed an interest. The operator/partner in this project needs to be nailed down before 16$million is allocated to this property purchase.
    We absolutely do not think there are any protections in place for the facility to be a ‘good neighbor’ in that location, the fears of the residents and business owners are real. Verde Vista has experienced multiple break ins and the RiverRidge Center has had many negative experiences. APD does not have the manpower to handle this and wont have for at least 2 years. No security company has been successfully secured to keep both the residents of the facility and the surrounding area safe.
    The County has not assured that the City the facility will have the wraparound services it needs. These services are essential for this project to be successful. The new service the County is proposing will be responding to overdose calls and merely picking up and dropping off people, without any further assistance.

    Hire a monitor for River Ridge and the surrounding neighborhoods and the proposed sidewalk to keep the shopping center and surrounding areas safe and mitigate any negative impact.
    Provide secure fencing which is maintained so the surrounding residents are not negatively impacted.
    Hold ongoing monthly meetings with neighbors and business owners to address concerns and challenges.
    Monitor hallways and grounds of the facility.
    Establish and monitor facility rules for clients that include expectations for behavior in neighboring properties and businesses so they know what the expectations are to be a “good neighbor.”
    Community classes to be offered eg. living in a community, integrating into society, challenges of living, the art of compromise, life skills and managing stress. The housing first strategy doesn’t work, if a person doesn’t have life skills.
    If and when this facility is established, the city needs to adopts a zero tolerance on camping in public spaces.

    Other unanswered questions.

    What is the time-line for the whole project? Since this project is not permanent, and might become affordable housing, how long does the city expect it to last?

    If there are no doors on the rooms so residents can be monitored during episodes, how will residents be kept safe?
    What will the rules be for animals? How will residents be kept safe? How will the facility be kept sanitary with animals?
    How will the facility be kept clean in general?
    Are the residents going to participate in the cleaning and upkeep of the facility? If not, why not?
    What specific services and resources will be offered?
    With no kitchen provided and no communal kitchen, how will they get the other two meals not provided?

  7. Walter Kent Savage

    What is “dirty” about the money tourists spend? Just curious & also wonder how much tourism contributes to the city’s economy in non pandemic years. Perhaps the commenter could elaborate? Thanks in advance!

    • Bobby O'Shea

      Tourism brings pollution, strain to our infrastructure, constant extra traffic, drives up prices that locals must deal with, and many other negatives. And what do we get. Most of that money they bring goes to the haves and not the have nots, who work in tourism without high wages or benefits. Tourism hurts the locals as it keeps them in poverty. Decisions by those in power favor ownership, not citizens. School law mandates school is out by early June. Why? So the tourist industry has more employees for the tourists. That should tell you something. Biltmore should be torn down and the land developed in order to reduce housing costs. High tech and manufacturing should takes its place, providing opportunity to locals to do something beside wait tables, play hillbilly for tourists, or craft beer.

  8. Bobby O'Shea

    My ex wife the lush used to drink so much bottled beer, our house became known to the local lost souls. Soon, although I’m a disabled vet, the lost souls started leaving trash on our lawn and stealing things, like my bike, my son’s bike, etc. I used that bike as therapy, it was given to me by a disabled vet. The lost souls were considerate though, leaving their previously stolen worn out bikes on my lawn to take care of. Homeless are human, and we should be compassionate, but most of us fight everyday for a spoonful of porridge and a slice of stale bread. Why not move the homeless onto Charlotte street, you know, where all the uber elite liberals in our city live. I’m sure they’d be glad to get rid of Green Life or Trader Joe’s and replace it with community housing for the homeless.

    • R.G.

      Why not move the homeless someplace with a lower cost of living than Asheville? Maybe someplace where there is land to garden and/or some other way to contribute to society, gain confidence, and becoming visible/productive members of the community. The way this city goes about things, we seem to be kicking so many cans down the road to be dealt with later. What is the end goal of ‘warehousing’ humans in a place where they have so little chance of home-ownership and righting their course? It seems we’re only exacerbating the problem by positioning Asheville as the place to go if you’re homeless. Why do myopic humans so rarely want to tackle root problems?

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