In its last meeting of the year, the Fayetteville City Council’s Homelessness and Mental Health Committee held a listening session Tuesday — a chance for community partners, committee members and residents to share concerns about the state of homelessness in the city and the committee’s progress.
Mental health was a major discussion topic among attendees and committee members, including Councilmembers Mario Benavente and Brenda McNair.
McNair expressed concern that individuals with mental health issues living on the streets are not receiving enough support from the city and community partners.
In a similar vein, Benavente said he hopes the city’s Office of Community Safety (OCS) will better support unhoused people with mental illness by connecting such individuals with trained mental health crisis professionals, as opposed to law enforcement officers who may not be properly trained in handling mental health crises.
The OCS, still in its early stages, is designed to fill gaps in the city's public safety initiatives, particularly in coordinating and evaluating the city’s responses to mental health crises, homelessness and violence interruption programs. Officials have said the city is finalizing a search for a director for the office.
Local advocates and community partners also expressed a desire to see greater connections between mental health services and the city’s unhoused population, such as inviting mental health professionals to the committee’s future meetings or bringing grief counselors to the Day Resource Center.
Debbie Brown, chairwoman of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Continuum of Care (CoC), said the Coordinated Entry program has an intake questionnaire that does not adequately address mental health issues experienced by unhoused people seeking help.
“It doesn't accurately depict a person for those mental health issues,” Brown said. “So the CoC will be working to change that intake so that we can better address some of those areas.”
Overseen by the CoC, Coordinated Entry is “a process in which people who are experiencing a housing crisis are quickly assessed, referred and connected to local resources,” according to the CoC website.
Tracy Morrison, who oversees the local Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) Program, said the Coordinated Entry program’s services need to be streamlined, as a lot of organizations under its perview are low on resources and understaffed. This can lead to unhoused people having trouble connecting through Coordinated Entry — a concern previously expressed by locals experiencing homelessness. She also stressed the need for more shelter space in Fayetteville, especially for women.
Brown said the Coordinated Entry program sometimes struggles with adequately supporting unhoused people who may not disclose mental health or substance abuse issues, which makes it difficult for the program to refer them to support service providers who can help.
“If there are issues, share them because we want to assist, but if you don't tell us, we can't assist you directly,” Brown said.
Day Resource Center
Several attendees were concerned about disorganization and a lack of homeless support organizations at the Day Resource Center.
Chris Cauley, director of the city’s Economic and Community Development department, said the goal is to assist Cumberland HealthNet — which oversees the center’s day-to-day operations — with implementing a plan to make the center’s “operations normalized, safe and effective for the community.” He suggested bringing in the county’s social services and public health departments.
“We definitely need some more policies and procedures in place,” Cauley said. “We need a bunch more partners.”
Benavente suggested the city advertise office space currently available for partner organizations at the Day Resource Center. Cauley said the city is working on helping Cumberland HealthNet with those efforts, and it will hopefully spread the word to recruit more volunteers and providers to the center.
Wheeler suggested the city consider investing in lockers at the Day Resource Center for unhoused people to store their belongings safely. Various cities and nonprofit organizations in the U.S. have sponsored programs to provide lockers for unhoused people in recent years.
Tuesday’s meeting may be the last for the current city council members who sit on the committee, Benavente said. The mayor is responsible for appointing council members to sit on and chair committees, so the committee may welcome new members in 2024, after the council’s newest members are sworn in.
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