Issues of mental health, public safety and homelessness continue to be a major focus for Fayetteville residents voicing concerns to the city council, with several speakers chiming in on the subjects during a public forum at Monday’s council meeting.
Three residents called on the city to fully fund its Office of Community Safety (OCS), while another three residents asked the council to make positive changes to the city’s Day Resource Center (DRC), which has been criticized by some advocates and unhoused people for not providing the support sources it previously advertised would be available.
According to city officials, the Day Resource Center, located at 128 S. King Street, was intended to be a central hub where people experiencing homelessness could receive support services for housing and employment assistance from various nonprofit organizations. Almost six months out from the center’s official opening, homeless community members and advocates continue to say the DRC’s services are lacking when it comes to connecting community members with shelter, employment and medical care.
Fayetteville resident Mac Dishman, who said she has been unhoused since May 2022, urged the council Monday to consider enhancing the DRC with services provided by Oak City Cares in Raleigh, a nonprofit that Fayetteville officials had hoped to model the DRC after.
Dishman said the DRC doesn’t provide some of the services offered by Oak City Cares that Dishman thinks it should. She specifically highlighted long-term mail service, assistance with disability application services and on-site medical services. Dishman also suggested the city consider offering rest and recovery services for the chronically unhoused.
“I know a lot of this stuff would actually help if the city of Fayetteville would just buckle down and provide extra resources,” Dishman told the council. “I know funding is an issue, but some of this stuff doesn't cost a lot.”
Joseph Wheeler, leader of the homeless advocacy group Homeless Assembly, also spoke about long-standing concerns he has regarding the DRC and its current management contractor, Cumberland HealthNET. He suggested representatives of the homeless community be included in the city’s future discussions about the DRC’s operations.
“If the DRC failed because of the homeless, it's because they were never given an opportunity to speak or be heard,” Wheeler said.
Speaking to CityView after Monday’s meeting, Mayor Mitch Colvin confirmed that the city had modeled its DRC after Oak City Cares, and indicated a willingness to offer additional services in line with its model.
“If it is a collective place for mail, we can improve how the post office delivers mail, if there’s something that we can do to connect people to resources that we’re not doing — it’s a work in progress,” Colvin said.
Three residents also advocated for the council to fully fund its Office of Community Safety. The discussions came after Dr. Gerard Tate, the director of the N.C. Office of Violence Prevention, gave the council advice on the direction of the OCS last week.
Lisa Lofthouse, the president of Organizing Against Racism Cumberland County, said the organization had come to the meeting to ask the council to fund the OCS with $3 million during budget discussions in June, as previously recommended by Council Member Mario Benavente. Lofthouse said Organizing Against Racism was “encouraged” by Tate’s recommendations, but said it was important to fund the office as soon as possible.
“If the data-driven plan is rolled out, as suggested by Dr. Tate, it can grow and expand according to what the greatest needs are,” Lofthouse said. “It is critical to fully fund this violence prevention, multifaceted program to provide critically needed resources to include mental health response teams, violence interruption programs and independent police oversight.”
Community activist Shaun McMillan, the co-founder of the Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce, also encouraged the council to fund the OCS immediately, emphasizing the importance of providing community responses to mental health crises outside of the police department. In his remarks, McMillan referenced recent deaths at the hands of local law enforcement that have involved individuals in mental health crises.
“Please don't lose sight of the urgency around implementing safe mental health responses,” McMillan said. “The urgency should be informed by and inspired by the recent losses of Joshua Oxendine in 2019, Adrian Roberts in 2020, Jada Johnson and Justin Livesay in 2022.”
Council Member Lynne Greene, one of the more decisive voices on the council in support of the OCS, said she agreed that gathering extensive public safety data should not cause a delay in the city’s progress in building out the OCS. She also expressed eagerness over the return of Tate, who will review preliminary public safety data at his next visit, including statistics that could be used to guide the city’s priorities for the OCS.
Greene did not know when Tate would be returning, but said she hoped it would be “sooner rather than later.”
Contact Evey Weisblat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-527-3608.
To keep CityView Today going and to grow our impact even more, we're asking our committed readers to consider becoming a member.