Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner recently convened an online meeting to address homelessness in Siler City, which has previously prompted complaints from business owners. This week, the News + …
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Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner recently convened an online meeting to address homelessness in Siler City, which has previously prompted complaints from business owners. This week, the News + Record queried Wagner and Town Planner Jack Meadows, who helped facilitate that online meeting, about the issue — and what’s happened since.
We normally associate the issue of homelessness with metropolitan areas, but of course most communities of any size deal with the issue. Officials in the town of Siler City have had a few conversations — in a meeting coordinated by you, Chief Wagner, as well as in town board meetings — on the subject. Let’s start with that — why has the topic more on the minds of everyone now?
WAGNER: I believe that the issue has come to the fore front due to recognition. We have had several issues with the homeless population based on public inquiries and calls to town government
What do we know about the root causes of homelessness that everyone should understand?
MEADOWS: There’s a lot of root causes such as mental health, substance abuse, poverty.
WAGNER: Life circumstances is a factor in homelessness … this can include health and mental health issues, lack of a family support system, loss of financial resources and a lack of transportation both public and private. So in fact, it’s usually several different factors that happen in a short period of time.
How does the issue of affordable housing, particularly in the western section of Chatham, play into this issue?
WAGNER: Affordable housing is a concern in most jurisdictions. The issue with the homeless is there in not a support function in place for a short-term layover until persons can reach sustainability, after a major life change.
MEADOWS: Per our partners, this is not just an issue of affordable housing in the western section of Chatham. Affordable housing is an issue county-wide. The reason more homeless is showing up in Siler City is because of more resources here such as hotels, more fast food restaurants, shopping and grocery stores are in walking distance.
The Chatham County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee may have data and information.
Statewide, there are about 9,000 homeless people. In Siler City, you’ve stated that fewer than 10 individuals have been identified as homeless. We know that just with COVID-19, there’s an elevated risk of spread among the homeless. But aside from the empathy we all feel toward them, why should we all be concerned about homelessness?
WAGNER: The same precautions should be in place during the pandemic for all of us. The homeless are at a higher risk because often they do not have the access to water and other products to protect them.
MEADOWS: Per our partners, it’s been reported that many are one or two paychecks away from being in need of assistance.
One of the difficult questions that Chief Wagner brought up during a meeting back in August was the question of whose responsibility it is to address the situation of homelessness. Often law enforcement gets calls, as do social services-related agencies. All stakeholders in a community are impacted, but where does the responsibility start to help the homeless — particularly when those who are homeless may not be willing to help themselves?
WAGNER: Again, I believe that the responsibility is shared among all members of the community, the key is to have a coordinated plan in place to maximize service and reduce redundancy.
MEADOWS: Homelessness is a community shared responsibility — shared along with the one who is homeless.
What shelter options are there in and around Siler City and in Chatham?
MEADOWS: People can contact the Salvation Army, Community One Solutions and Central Piedmont Community Action regarding the lodging opportunities for the homeless.
WAGNER: The only shelter options available are at the local motel/hotel where a cost is in play, not ideal but with community support short stays have been paid for.
How has the town officially addressed the issue, and what plans are being developed?
MEADOWS: Per our partners, the Town Board of Commissioners in previous budget years provided funding to nonprofits organizations that provided assistance to the homeless.
• identified resources: Salvation Army, Community One Solutions, Central Piedmont Community Action, Central Carolina Community College, Chatham County Managers Office, Freedom Family Church, and True Community Church
• facilitated an open discussion via Zoom with the resource team and concerned businesses
• discussed the item at a regular session meeting.
• notifies the resource team via email of any assistance needed.
• reviews news articles and websites from other communities
• has communicated with property owners regarding trash and debris placed on their property from homeless camps
What needs to happen next?
WAGNER: The town is addressing the issue and we are working with several interested stakeholders in formulating plan of action. The future is unclear, but I remain optimistic that with willing partners we will provide a solution to help offset community concerns while meeting the need of our homeless clients. Anyone interested in helping can contact the police department and I can guide them in the right direction.
This link provides a large list of food pantries, their contact information, and their days/hours starting in Siler City and then branching out into the surrounding area: cutt.ly/shelters.
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