Homelessness in Asheville has long been a serious and complex issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted and heightened this reality. While the homeless service system we’ve had in Asheville has ended homelessness for a small number of people annually, it’s never had the resources to operate at a scale that will make homelessness truly rare, brief, and non-recurring. Having an effective homeless services system takes collective will and sufficient, targeted resources, and the pandemic has given us both — in key community partners and an unprecedented level of federal funding.
To understand where we’re going, it helps to look at where we’ve been. In March 2020, the City of Asheville began taking steps to reduce homelessness in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first step was sheltering vulnerable individuals at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville. Next, the City entered into a contract with the Red Roof Inn to provide temporary shelter. Having a shelter option that provided separate rooms was also critical in helping to ensure that COVID-19 did not spread among our homeless community members, and it was very successful at this. There was only one confirmed COVID case among those staying at the Red Roof Inn. During their stay, all individuals were offered the opportunity to be vaccinated at four separate events.
Since the project began, 158 people have been served, staying in shelter for an average of 166 days. Of those, 42 people have moved to permanent housing. This provides strong evidence that this strategy worked to both reduce the spread of COVID-19 among homeless individuals and it provided them a clear path to permanent housing.
While we celebrate the success of people moving to permanent housing, we must also acknowledge that the contract with the Red Roof Inn is ending on June 30. As of June 28, 56 people are currently in shelter at the Red Roof Inn. The City’s partner Homeward Bound continues to work to find alternate placements for those who will have to leave.
“While we don’t know exactly where everyone will go once the hotel contracts for emergency shelter have ended on June 30, Homeward Bound is working hard to find housing solutions — either actually moving individuals into permanent housing or at least having a permanent housing plan identified for them,” Meredith Switzer of Homeward Bound said in a recent Citizen-Times column. “Some may even transition into other sheltering programs. We are advocating and collaborating with our community partners as much as we can to identify a variety of options at this point.”
The City emphatically believes that the answer to homelessness is housing, and the goal is always permanent housing. That’s why the City is also investing $2 million, combined with significant contributions from other partners, in Homeward Bound’s initiative to provide 85 units of permanent supportive housing at the Days Inn on Tunnel Road.
As the City is investing in permanent supportive housing, it is also pursuing the addition of a low barrier shelter. To learn more, look for continued press releases on Asheville City Source with details about what a low-barrier shelter is.