Council reaching out for homeless

Friday, February 19, 2010
Ronald Robinson, executive director of the Lewisburg Housing Authority, left, and the Rev. Leland Carden, right, listen to the City Council discuss homelessness here.

Lewisburg city councilmen exchanged views on homelessness Tuesday and decided they need more information and partners to deal with the issue since it's expected to grow with continued unemployment.

"To come to a plan, we should talk with the people who provide services," Mayor Barbara Woods said as she opened discussion at a special called meeting in City Hall. "And there are others we should consult."

Buffalo Valley, a social service agency that has several homes for clients with personal issues, was seen as probably having employees with experience helping homeless people and therefore some insights on what the city could do.

Transients and local residents who've fallen on hard times were seen as separate issues, according to the Rev. Leland Carden. Transients may have run out of gas or their car broke down. Residents may have a job here, but were evicted, lost their home to fire, or other circumstances.

However, increased unemployment - hovering around 20 percent in recent months - is making the problem worse.

"This is not a new problem," Carden said, "but it's heightened by the economy."

Meanwhile, the recession reduced donations to churches and other groups that help the homeless.

"We're not going to solve it today," Woods said, "and it's probably going to get worse."

Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board has agreed to organize visits to nearby communities to learn what's done there, the mayor said.

A consensus emerged from the Council's discussion that Marshall County leaders and those in Cornersville and Chapel Hill should be asked to help address the issue, and possibly go on the field trips Wiles is organizing.

Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart has explained she raised the issue for the Council's consideration, in part, because of the growing problem's effect on Millie Miller and the Celebration Inn she has on Nashville Highway.

There is no homeless shelter in Marshall County, Carden said. While some people are working toward creating one, the inn on Nashville Highway has become the place to go because Miller has developed a reputation as someone who will help.

About a year ago she might have been asked to help once every few months. Requests grew to monthly, weekly and now daily, she said.

"This is not the way to run a business," Miller said. "I can't see doing this much more.

"I see a disaster looming over our heads," she said.

It's happening one at a time. Woods told of a woman who was living on a park bench in Rock Creek Park and elsewhere in town there's a pregnant girl whose father "went ballistic" and kicked her out. The so-called boyfriend won't have anything to do with her.

Miller reported information about the number of people who are living at the campgrounds of Henry Horton State Park for $6 a night.

Some apparently are finding ways around the limit on the number of days to stay there.

"So," Woods said, "we need someone from Chapel Hill" to consult as officials and those with insight are to be gathered to address the issue with greater clarity and direction.

"This is a good time to do this," Miller said, having already explained she's willing to do her part, but regulations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development affect the situation if someone wants to become a resident of the apartments owned by the Lewisburg Housing Authority.

"If the woman was in a shelter," Miller said of a mother with two children who were evicted last month, "then they could move to the top of the waiting list" for public housing.

Ronald Robinson, executive director of the Housing Authority, said he has "quite a few" names on a waiting list for housing, but the units aren't a homeless shelter.

"We're government funded, but we're not free housing," Robinson said. "Applicants must put down a deposit - as much as $500 to $600. Once they're in, we do help with utilities."

Rent for a public housing unit is based on the resident's income.

Discussion led by Woods prompted the Council to turn to City Manager Eddie Fuller and City Treasurer Connie Edde for the needed communications work. They're to contact other local government leaders, the Ministerial Association, churches, local businessmen and woman, social service agencies and the Housing Authority to find a mutually convenient time and place for a continuation of the discussion and a consensus on what should be done.