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Bill Kirby Jr.: One homeless person in the cold of night is one too many

The Homeless Advisory Committee is getting down to work with a discussion of a homeless day center, a homeless shelter and a strategic plan.

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When it comes to the homeless in this community, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin is passionate about their plight.

She worries about below-freezing nights.

She worries about hunger in their bellies.

“Just last week somebody died under a bridge,” Banks-McLaughlin was telling Mayor Mitch Colvin and her fellow council members on Jan. 4 at a Fayetteville City Council work session at the Fayetteville Transit Center.

In the city alone, she said, homelessness is a “crisis,” and Banks-McLaughlin sternly looked them all in the eyes. “As a city, it is one of our responsibilities.”

Her words were not lost on the mayor.

“Every one of us,” Colvin said, “has a soft spot for the less fortunate and homeless.”

Not just those in the city, but the county as well.

The Homeless Advisory Committee of both government bodies, as part of an interlocal agreement, is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Cumberland County Department of Social Services to address the homeless issue. Committee members will be discussing a proposed homeless day center, a proposed homeless shelter and strategies to reach out to those who have no roof over their head.

The committee includes City Council members Larry Wright and Banks-McLaughlin, Cumberland County Commissioners Toni Stewart and Michael Boose, Susan Williams of the Cumberland County Board of Education and Debbie Brown, chairwoman of the Cumberland County Continuum of Care on Homelessness.

Some good news for the committee is that it has $2 million, thanks to the 2022 state budget passed in November. The city received $1 million for a homeless day center. The county received $1 million for a homeless shelter.

Now I’ve seen these homeless committees before – one about 15 years ago with a lot of community movers and shakers, and the truth of it is, that committee didn’t do squat. I don’t know everyone on the current committee, but I know some of them, and I believe they’ll do some good work when it comes to the homeless.

“The joint Homeless Advisory Committee has been reconstituted with one additional member each from the city and county elected boards, as well as a member of the Board of Education,” says Glenn Adams, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners.

“The gaps in our services to the homeless have been documented and a strategic plan created.

“I am hopeful as we move forward with projects to close the gaps and meet the needs of our citizens. That includes providing shelter and wrap-around services to link individuals with community resources.

“The 2020 Point in Time study documented 297 homeless individuals and of those, 165 were unsheltered,” Adams says. “The Point in Time Homeless Count is not a comprehensive study. It is a one-day snapshot of unduplicated count of homeless individuals within our community. It does not include those households who are at-risk of homeless or those who are doubled up and couch surfing. The count helps in understanding the characteristics of the homeless population.”

One hundred sixty-five people out in the cold are 165 people too many.

I saw a homeless man last week before the winter storm. He was walking in a driving rain and it must have been around 30 degrees. I felt so bad for him. I felt so guilty, too, because I had a home to go to on that frigid and nasty night.

Let me, if I may, amend my previous thought.

One homeless man or woman out in the cold is one too many.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

column, homelessness, homeless day center, homeless shelter, Cumberland County, Fayetteville

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