North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Homelessness grows in Twin Cities

The Rocky Mount Telegram
Geoffrey Cooper
November 4, 2010
 
Officials throughout the Twin Counties have stepped forward to embrace the growing homeless population in the area.
 
Both Nash and Edgecombe counties Board of Commissioners unanimously approved proclamations at their recent monthly meetings designating November as Homeless Awareness Month for the region. The unified decree from commissioners contain steps officials say they hope will bring a sense of urgency and community involvement.
 
United Community Ministries Executive Director Chris Battle addressed both boards on the current growth of area homelessness — which he dubbed as the “invisible population” — and how it has blossomed beyond shelter walls.
 
Battle — who has served with the local ministry for 10 years — said that his nonprofit has identified more than 500 homeless individuals in the Twin Counties. More than 625 homeless children also have been identified in the Nash-Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County Public school systems.
 
“Unfortunately, our ‘invisible population’ is becoming more visible,” Battle said. “We’re the only shop around here. We are committed to ending homelessness. ... It can’t be done without the support of our community.”
 
The ministry started as a soup kitchen in 1977 at Church of the Good Shepherd, later moving to McDonald Street as a men’s and women homeless shelter. Operations further expanded with the creation of the Bassett Center — a transitional housing facility for homeless families — on Branch Street in 2001.
United Community Ministries serves as the only transitional housing facility between Rocky Mount, Wilson and Greenville.
 
Edgecombe County Commissioner Charlie Harrell said one homeless family is too many, and that the numbers are strong indications that more efforts are needed by local governments. The high hurdle for the board has been allocating sufficient dollars to agencies such as United Community Ministries under tight economic conditions.
 
“Our efforts have been minimal because the budget has been stretched to its maximum. ... There’s far too many (homeless residents) for a caring society to exist,” Harrell said in telephone interview. “We have helped (United Community Ministries) and some other nonprofits with a few grants. They’re the biggest advocates that this area have. ... If the nonprofits don’t do it, things may not get done.”
 
Battle said the Bassett Center can hold up to 12 families at a time. The center has been full the majority of this year, and Battle said that more than 40 families are awaiting entry. On some occasions, the surplus of homeless families are forced to migrate to inadequate housing and street corridors to find refuge, he said.
 
Nash County Board Chairman Robbie Davis said he acknowledges that commissioners and state government have dropped the ball on addressing mental health needs for the homeless. Many homeless residents may suffer from mental illnesses, and closer attention to those at-risk groups could prevent the problem from further growing, he said.
 
“When you look at those numbers, one may ask ‘How can that be?’” Davis said in a phone interview. “More work is going to have to be sought by our board and Social Services to ensure this population doesn’t get left out in the cold.”
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