Orange County

IFC homeless shelter drops plan for extra cots, asks Chapel Hill for more time

The 52-bed IFC @ SECU Community House at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in northern Chapel Hill replaced a longtime shelter at 100 W. Rosemary St. downtown.
The 52-bed IFC @ SECU Community House at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in northern Chapel Hill replaced a longtime shelter at 100 W. Rosemary St. downtown.

Neighbors' concerns have stopped plans to add more emergency cots to the IFC's homeless shelter and will keep the conversation about other proposed changes going this summer.

Jackie Jenks, executive director of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, has asked the Chapel Hill Town Council to delay a June 20 report to the town until September. The IFC plans at least three more public meetings, Jenks said.

"We will seek feedback on our ideas for changes to the Good Neighbor Plan, respond to questions from our neighbors and other community stakeholders, and provide additional documentation," she said.

Jackie Jenks
Jackie Jenks Leslie Rabine Contributed

The IFC's 52-bed Community House on Homestead Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard opened in 2015 as a transitional shelter that moves men through three stages to independent living.

It faced many contentious conversations before being approved about whether the shelter belonged in the neighborhood and how it would be managed. The Town Council also required a Good Neighbor Plan to address shelter operations, safety concerns and community relations.

Proposed changes, including the shift to a "Housing First" service model, would require the council to approve a modified IFC permit.

The proposed changes would lower barriers to admission, no longer requiring sobriety, background checks and government-issued identification. Walk-ins would be allowed, and residents could relax outside the building.

Seventeen overflow cots, now used during inclement weather, could provide space for people year-round. Jenks noted that a plan to add more cots has been dropped in response to recent community feedback.

Several neighbors contacted the council in response to the proposed changes, asking for a delay until more information is available and urging council members to hold the IFC to its promises.

Neighbors predicted the IFC would make changes once Community House was built, even though they were told those concerns were unfounded, said Steve Kirschner, who served on the Good Neighbor Advisory Committee in 2011-12. He asked the council to preserve the safeguards and the limit on the number of clients.

"Remember, the Good Neighbor Advisory [Committee] met and negotiated these safeguards for a year, but the controversy over relocating the shelter went on for several years," Kirschner said. "Changing the terms of the agreement now, after less than three years of operating the facility, would be a slap in the face to the work of the committee and the neighbors."

The county’s Point-In-Time Count taken each January shows there is a growing need, Jenks said. The 2018 count found 152 people experiencing some form of homelessness, including shelter residents, and roughly 39 who were without shelter.

Both numbers were the highest reported since 2011, when there were 136 people experiencing homelessness and 33 without any shelter.

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"When the threshold for shelter is too high for our most vulnerable community members to transcend, they end up staying for long periods of time in our parks, on our streets, or in other public places not meant for human habitation," Jenks said. "This is neither healthy nor dignified for the person or the community."

Stephani Kilpatrick, director of residential services, said Community House helped 37 men find stable housing from April 2017 to March 2018. Just over 100 men moved out, some of whom are living outside or with family or friends, she said.

The paperwork and stages associated with the transitional program slow the process of finding jobs and housing for residents, said program manager Megan Raymond. Housing First finds permanent housing for homeless people before addressing any employment, substance abuse or other problems.

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Jenks, who was hired as the IFC's executive director just over a year ago, has experience with the Housing First model from her work in San Francisco with the Community Housing Partnership. The partnership is among several nonprofits that provide housing and services for the city's Housing First program, which started in 2004.

Correspondent Matt Goad contributed to this report.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926; @TammyGrubb