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.