While much of downtown slumbers, the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville is wide awake and bustling with activity. Volunteers and staff with Homeward Bound distribute donated food and supplies in the lobby of the entertainment venue, while as many as 50 men and women have called the center home since it opened as a shelter on April 8.
Robert Stevenson, who serves as a liaison between local residents experiencing homelessness and Homeward Bound, says the numbers have dropped a little since that peak, with over 30 folks still in residence at the end of April.
One of them is Yulon Ferguson, who entered the makeshift lodging facility when it opened. He says the accommodations give him peace of mind.
“I am a worrier, but I’m trying not to be anxious and not worry,” Ferguson says. “It’s safe here.”
He says he’s utilizing the time in quarantine to focus on creating a better life for himself once the crisis has passed. One of his main priorities includes something on many Americans’ minds: getting back to work. While he hopes eventually to become a firefighter, he plans to first reenter the workforce through temp agencies after the stay-at-home order is lifted.
“I’m starting off slow,” says the 49-year-old. “I’ve got friends [who say], ‘You ought to get a disability check.’ But I’d rather work.”
In the meantime, Ferguson says he’s taken up cleaning duties at the shelter, including sweeping and mopping the temporary living areas and hallways where cots are placed 6 feet apart. He also is using the time to focus on sobriety and act as a mentor to other shelter tenants.
“I cried the other day while I was in here, because it always rained when I’m using. It was a blessing that I was clean and sober here,” he reflects. “I wrote Homeward Bound [and] the court [a letter], for allowing me to be here. And the donations… I think it’s truly a blessing.”
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.