Permanent shelter, transitional housing plan moves forward

By Vicki Hyatt | Feb 05, 2014
Photo by: Mountaineer file photo Patrick McClure, Sheriff Greg Christopher and Rev. Nick Honerkamp stand in front of the building they hope will one day become a homeless shelter.

Plans are moving forward to use the abandoned state prison in Hazelwood for a faith-based effort to reduce homelessness and help those released from prison get their life back on track.

Representatives from three organizations — the Open Door, Haywood Christian Emergency Shelter and Next Step Ministry — met with the Haywood County Board of Commissioners Monday and outlined plans to serve the community at a new level.

The possibility of using a portion of the former state prison property, now owned by the county, as a site for a permanent homeless shelter, transitional housing for those being released from prison and the Open Door soup kitchen was the subject of a recent work session.

On Monday, the commissioners agreed the plan had merit and suggested the next step would be to develop a master plan for the property and craft a memorandum of understanding on the terms of how the county property will be used.

At this point, the Open Door has made no firm decision to move from its present location in Frog Level in Waynesville to the new site.

Perry Hines, the organization’s executive director, said both the Open Door’s governing board and the board at Long’s Chapel, which started the organization, will need to vote on the matter.

During his presentation, Hines said the move would have to be one that isn’t cost prohibitive. He asked for a 10-year lease, office space for three to provide client services and an ongoing dialogue for the possibility of future expansion.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley suggested a movable building on the site that formerly served as the prison chapel may work for the Open Door office space needs.

The Rev. Nick Honerkamp, who is board chairman of the shelter effort, noted that over the past five winters, about half of the more than 80 individuals who have used the shelter were able to escape homelessness.

Jason Ledford with Next Step Ministry cited studies showing that 50 percent of those released from jail return to jail, but if they are released into a faith-based program, 13 percent become repeat offenders.

Ideally, the transitional housing available at the site would include programs for both men and women, but initially the program will focus on the male population, Ledford said.

Commission Chairman Mark Swanger said it is too early to make a decision given the Open Door’s schedule, but Hines suggested more information will be available in several weeks. Swanger noted County Sheriff Greg Christopher was present at the work session and supports the effort.

Ensley voiced support for the faith-based approach.

“When you change someone’s heart, you change their actions,” he said.

Swanger suggested setting a goal for the first meeting in March to have the memorandum of understanding for using the property drafted and ready for review.