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Board of Commissioners Joins City Council to Hear Strategies to Address Homelessness

a woman presents at a lecturn

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners joined the Asheville City Council to hear the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ (NAEH’s) recommendations to end unsheltered homelessness. Together with the Dogwood Health Trust, Asheville Homeless Initiative Advisory Council, and other public and private partners, NAEH leaders walked through short-, medium-, and long-term priorities for the Buncombe County community.

“We are excited to do this work alongside your community,” said Ann Oliva, Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “While we do see a number of national trends, the solutions you implement in your own community are going to be specific to your own environment. Our mission is simple – it’s to end homelessness in the United States.”

Utilizing a Continuum of Care model, the “Within Reach. Ending Unsheltered Homelessness in Asheville-Buncombe CoC” report outlines recommendations to reduce homelessness in Buncombe County by 50% in two years. Frequently referred to by the acronym “CoC,” the Continuum of Care model promotes communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness with nonprofit and government funding, while working quickly to rehouse homeless individuals. This model seeks to shorten the trauma and dislocation so that access to support programs increase, and individuals experiencing homelessness can become self-sufficient sooner.

A Continuum of Care has three major responsibilities: operating the CoC, designating and operating a Homeless Management Information System, and conducting planning for the area’s homelessness response system. The City of Asheville serves as the HUD applicant for the Asheville-Buncombe CoC and the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee serves as the CoC governance board. Other key partners include the County, the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville, the Homeless Coalition, service providers, and people with lived experience of homelessness.

“Homelessness is an issue of critical importance to our community and to the County as part of our strategic goals for a thriving community,” said Board Chair Brownie Newman. “When we received our homeless point-in-time count data last spring, we saw that the number of unsheltered individuals had doubled since the prior year and more than tripled compared to pre-pandemic levels. We know the reasons for this rise in unsheltered homelessness are complex and that there are there are no easy solutions.”

The Alliance recommends that the CoC pursue a goal of decreasing unsheltered homelessness by 50 percent in two years by taking action in five broad strategies:

  1. Create a Strong Foundation
  2. Implement Evidence-Based and Inclusive Policy
  3. Improve System Performance Through Program Design
  4. Improve Data Quality and Reporting
  5. Invest in the Future

The report points to data that shows when households pay 30% or more of their income for housing, homelessness grows at a faster rate. The City of Asheville is the most expensive place to rent in North Carolina, where it is estimated one would need to make at least $26.50 per hour to make rent for a two bedroom unit while paying no more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. The median hourly wage in the City of Asheville in 2022 is $15.87.

Buncombe County Efforts Underway 

Buncombe County will continue bringing resources to not only address homelessness but also related issues such as housing, health, and safety. To view affordable housing projects that utilize County funding support, click here. In November 2022, Buncombe County voters approved $40 million of bond funding to increase construction for affordable housing. It’s expected that up to 3,150 affordable housing units will be impacted by 2030. The County has also sought out to increase emergency assistance for rent, mortgage, and utilities.

Buncombe County also has increased its outreach and crisis response through expanded Community Paramedicine Mobile Community Outreach Team, offering behavioral urgent care, expanding Code Purple services, and growing post-overdose response and medication assisted treatment programs.

Next Steps

The Board of Commissioners will continue to receive regular updates from staff and representatives from the Continuum of Care. In addition to an upcoming visit by City and County leaders to emergency shelters in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, staff will work with the Continuum of Care to develop an encampment resolution strategy. The report from the National Association to End Homelessness comes as the County is beginning its FY24 budget process.

“We appreciate this thorough set of strategies, priorities, and steps that give us a comprehensive roadmap our community can use for taking action,” said Newman. “We are committed to an equitable, systems-level, collaborative approach to homelessness that will move the needle toward reducing homelessness in Buncombe County.”

Click here to read “Within Reach. Ending Homelessness in the Asheville-Buncombe Coc.” To watch the joint meeting, click here.

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Updated Jan 25, 2023 04:42 PM
Published Jan 25, 2023 04:12 PM