Critics who have repeatedly called for homeless people to be removed from the streets of Waynesville are now complaining about a program that does just that.
Waynesville leaders have set aside $70,000 in federal COVID stimulus funds over two years for an experimental program to temporarily house homeless people in motels. The program is run by the voluntary non-profit organization Helping Hands of Haywood, with all money going solely towards the cost of rooms, which cost around $45 a night.
The homeless people served by the program are not only off the streets, but in a stable setting with services provided on site, hopefully serving as a springboard to get their lives back on track.
But a firestorm erupted during the program – ironically from some of the same people who repeatedly complain about the homeless living on the streets.
At a town council meeting earlier this month, resident Sherri Morgan called Helping Hands a “socialist group” and questioned the use of public money to “house drug addicts and criminals from passage”.
But the biggest bone of contention among critics is which motels participate in the program. Specifically, critics have demanded to know if one particular motel — Our Place Inn in Maggie Valley — is among those receiving money to house the homeless. Our Place Inn made national headlines last year for its marquee signage with the acronym “ACAB,” which stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.”
The latest version of the motel sign reads “Honk for ACAB. Happy New Year to everyone except the LEOs. LEO stands for “Law Enforcement Officers”.
Morgan said the city should stipulate that none of the money for homeless housing goes to a motel espousing such a derogatory view of police.
“Citizens deserve proof that not a penny went to the disrespectful Our Place Inn motel where all the cops are bastards,” Morgan said.
The city declines to say which motels Helping Hands uses, however, saying it meets the criteria for confidential information under state law.
Meanwhile, Our Place Inn has neither confirmed nor denied whether it was one of the motels used for housing the homeless, citing controversy in the media last year over its sign. ACAB. However, the presence of an on-site pantry indicates that this was indeed one of the motels used for the program.
Also, the motel’s voicemail says it is currently closed and being used as an emergency shelter.
The $70,000 allocated to Helping Hands for housing the homeless was to be disbursed over a two-year period. For the first year, Helping Hands was to receive the money in quarterly installments of $8,750.
To release payments each quarter, Helping Hands must provide a report to the board of directors on the number of nights it has paid – which amounted to 190 nights in the first quarter at an average of $46 per night.
Helping Hands also had to provide receipts.
“They provided a stack of receipts for payments they made to the various hotels they put people up at,” Deputy City Manager Jesse Fowler told City Council earlier this month. “This information is confidential. There is sensitive information on these documents that we cannot distribute for the safety of these people. »
Fowler told aldermen they would be allowed to come to town hall and view receipts if they wanted to, but that could not be released publicly.
Although Helping Hands agreed from the outset to provide receipts as a condition of funding, they asked that this not be made public.
According to City Attorney Martha Bradley, the receipts are considered a “trade secret” and therefore meet the criteria for confidential information. Specifically, the cited law has a four-part litmus test for information to be considered confidential: it must meet the definition of a trade secret, be private property, relate to the performance of a contract by a private entity and have been designated as confidential. at the time of the contract.
All of these have been encountered, according to Bradley.
One of the stipulations regarding the money was that it would only be spent on housing for Waynesville residents, not transients. Helping Hands of Haywood co-ordinator Nicole Kott said the stipulation was met by requiring customers to show their identification.
Services provided on-site include mental health, addiction counseling, employment counselling, Narcotics Anonymous meetings and meals. The framework keeps homeless people off the streets and away from bad influences that might otherwise hinder their eventual reintegration into society.
Homeless people served by the program were unable to enter the homeless shelter at Haywood Pathways Center for a variety of reasons, including a lack of space at Pathway, a COVID outbreak limiting admission, the presence of a service dog or mental health issues. which are not conducive to a group living environment.
“We have had great success with this program and are motivated to continue to be a ‘stepping stone’ for people in need of housing,” wrote Nicole Kott of Helping Hands of Haywood in her quarterly report to the city.