Community House Update

IFC is seeking changes to Community House's Good Neighbor Plan in order to address an identified gap in Orange County's local homeless services system and bring the shelter in line with nationally recognized best practices. To learn more, please continue reading.

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May 23, 2018

Dear Mayor Hemminger, Town Council, and Community Members,

Two and half years ago, Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) moved this community’s men’s shelter from the downtown Rosemary Street location into a brand new home at 1315 MLK Jr Blvd in North Chapel Hill. Locating and building the new space was a long process and required IFC to enter into a Good Neighbor Plan as part of the Special Use Permit process.

Since Community House opened, IFC has worked with the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, County and Town officials, and other community agencies to examine how IFC can best respond to community need and work toward the stated goal of ending homelessness in Orange County.

As a result of what we have learned, IFC is currently exploring potential changes to the Good Neighbor Plan and was scheduled to present these changes to the Town Council on June 20. However, because we know how important the proposed changes are to our housed and homeless neighbors and the community-at-large, IFC is committed to ensuring that there is ample time for outreach and input. Accordingly, we withdraw our request to present the Good Neighbor Plan item on June 20. Instead, we will take time over the summer for more community engagement, and we respectfully request a meeting date in September.

The potential changes being considered will allow IFC to address an identified gap in Orange County’s local homeless services system and are consistent with the Housing First model, which is a nationally-recognized best practice.

Housing First works with each person individually to prioritize access to housing and to wrap around the support services they need to stay successfully housed. This model is person-centered and posits that people know what they need to successfully exit homelessness. A large body of research shows the success of this approach. This Quick Data and Reference Guide on Housing First includes some useful facts and resources. This information was taken from a literature review done by a team of UNC-Chapel Hill Public Policy students who did their Capstone project on the Housing First model.

For IFC, Housing First means that each of our 52 residents will be assigned a bed upon entry and will remain in the same bed until they move out. A case manager will meet with each resident to establish goals that will lead to housing and stability. For some people, securing housing can be accomplished in a couple of months; for others, it may take a year or longer. Currently at Community House, under a “transitional housing” focus, residents expect to have a more lengthy stay and to complete “stages,” a process of moving to beds in different rooms over time. Rather than working on a plan toward exiting into housing, the focus of the resident’s stay thus becomes where he is in the “stages” process. Staff are required to spend time processing residents among the different stages rather than fully focusing on their housing plans. Residents will receive more support and guidance under the Housing First model because the focus will be transitioning into housing.

Housing First also calls for reducing barriers associated with entering shelter. Reducing barriers to shelter allows people to more easily come in from outside and begin to stabilize in a supportive environment. 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. This is neither healthy nor dignified for the person or the community.

For IFC, lowering barriers means changing our current practices of requiring government-issued identification, completing comprehensive assessments before entry, requiring background checks, mandating sobriety, and limiting transportation options. It also means using some of our inclement weather cots for year-round overflow space to allow unsheltered people to come inside at night, regardless of weather, and begin to experience stability. Orange County’s 2018 Point-In-Time Count indicates increased community need for shelter space, with 152 people experiencing homelessness and 39 of them unsheltered on a given night.

Other proposed changes for feedback include administrative and efficiency adjustments, such as allowing any staff to discharge residents according to standard protocol, transferring the 24-hour emergency contact to the front desk so staff can receive feedback in real time, providing some meals at IFC’s Community Kitchen for Community House residents, opening the on-site Piedmont Health Clinic to all Piedmont Health patients, and allowing residents to enjoy the grounds and outdoor common areas of their temporary home without it being considered loitering.

Here are two documents that may be helpful in understanding the Housing First Emergency Shelter model:

A Comparison of Transitional Housing and Housing First Emergency Shelter Models at Community House, developed by IFC Residential Services Director Stephani Kilpatrick and IFC Shelter Managers Megan Raymond and Rex Mercer.

A New Yorker article – Million-Dollar Murray by Malcolm Gladwell - which provides a perspective on Housing First and gives reasoned support for some of the changes IFC seeks.

Some questions and concerns have arisen over the past few weeks, which we would like to answer. We will do our best to address any future questions at the upcoming community meetings in order to allow for the broadest distribution of information possible.

Are there any proposed changes to HomeStart shelter for women and families? IFC is not proposing changes to HomeStart, as it is already successfully operating as a Housing First Emergency Shelter. It is important to note that HomeStart is not part of the Good Neighbor Plan or the SUP.

Have you requested meetings with Town Council or any Town staff regarding changes to either facility? Yes. IFC works closely with the Town on many projects, including having discussions about proposed changes to the Good Neighbor Plan. Town staff attended both of our recent community meetings.

Do you have meetings with churches planned to discuss changes to either facility? For the first two community meetings, we sent postcards to all neighbors within the standard 1,000-foot radius of our building, including residents, businesses, and churches. In addition, we expanded the area to include notice to additional residential neighbors. There were church representatives present at both community meetings.

When can we expect more information about specific changes to the Good Neighbor Plan or SUP? We have already taken neighbor feedback into consideration and have decided not to pursue increasing the number of cots in the shelter. In addition to the information in this letter, more will be provided at the upcoming community meetings. We will provide notification for these meetings as broadly as possible and at least two weeks in advance.

Was the Herald-Sun article an initiative of IFC, and was the agenda planned accordingly? No. IFC was not notified that a reporter would be attending the most recent meeting. This meeting was publicly-noticed by IFC and the Town and was open to anyone. The agenda was the same as the previous meeting, had been printed in advance, and was not changed based on the presence of the press.

What do we know about how many people are homeless in other parts of the county (such as Mebane), and do they need to come to Chapel Hill for shelter? According to the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, those who are unsheltered in other parts of the county on any given night account for 10% or less of the overall population (generally 2-4 people on any given night). The vast majority are staying unsheltered in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. As IFC operates the only shelters in Orange County, our unsheltered neighbors in other parts of the County do come to Chapel Hill if they are able to and there is shelter space available.

IFC is committed to continuing to be a good neighbor, which is in line with two of our organizational values -- Mutual Respect and Integrity. IFC has served the communities of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County for 55 years. This is our home and our community, and we take seriously our responsibility to assure we are responsive, transparent, and respectful to those around us. Please find our mission, vision, and values, which guide our organization.

Since Community House opened more than two years ago, IFC has held regular meetings of our Community House Advisory Committee (CHAC), hosted annual Open Houses, checked the CHAC Comment and Concern line daily, and participated in countless community meetings to educate, learn about, and end homelessness. During this time, we received no complaints from neighbors. In fact, those neighbors who did engage in the CHAC and associated events were very positive and supportive of the program at this location.

As to the proposed changes to the Good Neighbor Plan, IFC has held two community meetings thus far, on May 10 and May 15, to acknowledge Community House’s first two years at its new location, gather feedback from neighbors on how the past two years have been for them, present our learning on best practices for shelters, and gather feedback on our ideas for Good Neighbor Plan changes. While these meetings were instructive and a good start to our dialogue with our neighbors and members of the local community, many community members were not present, and the information presented was a lot to process.

During the next three months, IFC will hold at least three additional community meetings. 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 and resources currently being developed. We look forward to a meaningful community conversation.
We appreciate your time and attention to this process.


In community,

Jackie Jenks
Executive Director