ENC Regional News
2:36 am
Thu March 13, 2008

Onslow Homeless Shelter threatened with closure

Onslow Homeless Shelter threatened with closure

New Bern, NC –
INTRO - Funding shortfalls are putting the future of the Onslow Community Ministries Homeless Shelter in jeopardy. George Olsen has more.

All jobs have their days where you feel you're fighting a rising tide which is why you hold onto the days where your sense of accomplishment is tangible.

He was a person who was determined to make something of himself. He just wanted that support. He had family in the area and before he contacted that family he at least wanted to make a step and tell them that he had done something with his life. He was a chronic substance abuse user, but we trusted him and I wanted to give him a fair chance while he was here.

Christina Bailey is the Director for Onslow Community Ministries' Homeless Shelter. She's describing a man brought to the Shelter last winter by the Onslow County Sheriff's Department they found frostbitten and living in the woods. With the Shelter's help, he eventually found employment, found a trailer to live in, furnished it, and even bought a car to get to work after months of transporting himself using the bike the Shelter got for him. That's the story Bailey hangs on to. But with the Shelter running a $32,000 deficit last year, it's in danger of closing, potentially as soon as April.

We are serving more people. From 2006 to 2007 we only served an additional 18 people in 2007 than in 2006. However, our bed nights are what made the difference. What I mean by bed nights is how many nights a person stays in the shelter. In 2007 we served 256 individuals with a total of 2184 bed nights, which averages about 7-8 bed nights per person.

The bed night total was a 37% increase from 2006. Of those 256 individuals, 37 were veterans and 44 were children. Most of the operations money for the Shelter goes toward salaries for its employees

and mind you, our workers only make a little more than minimum wage so they're not getting rich here in our facility.

Part of the increasing expenses the Shelter rings up comes from a recent expansion in services. The shelter had been open from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am enough time for people to check in, eat dinner, then go to sleep. But the Shelter now opens at 2:00 pm in the afternoon, which gives Shelter personnel a chance to do more for clients than offer a roof over their head.

Five o'clock, most organizations are closed, normal business hours are 8-to-5. And when we open now at 2:00 pm we're able to take them to clinics for medical care, things of that nature, so we're able to do more with the expanded hours. We'd love to be open for 24 hours a day but we're barely able to stay open 17.

Bailey will also help residents according to needs perhaps help with a resume to aid them in finding employment, contacting a representative with the Employment Securities Commission to check on job availabilities, taking them to the Salvation Army Thrift Store to get them new clothing in the hopes that help now will preclude the need for the Shelter again in the future. The Shelter currently receives grants for operation from Onslow County, the United Way and FEMA, amongst others, but is looking for more individual support from the community to allow the Shelter to operate on its current schedule.

We have made that an option to go back to the 7-to-7 hours which is a 12 hour shift, and we've also taken into consideration we would not have programs. We'd just be considered a sleep house where folks would come in and get their dinner, go to sleep and get ready for the next day. We don't have enough time to service them as we'd like to or as we're doing right now, so the services could be cut back, and I think that may be a step we'd take before closing completely down.

Closing the Shelter completely is Onslow Community Ministries' final option. But a $32,000 shortfall is real money to a non-profit group typically operating on a shoestring, so closing the Shelter's doors might at some point become the only choice. And Bailey notes that it will remove the only choice for some people in Onslow County needing the assist that the Shelter has been providing.

There is no where for them to go. We do have another shelter in town, 2nd Chance Mission of Hope, but they're currently undergoing renovations and things of that nature, so they're kind of limited to the persons that they can take as well. Then there's the Onslow Women's Center which only takes domestic and sexual assault victims and women only, so that takes away the men. There are no resources here for homelessness in Onslow County, so if Onslow Community Homeless Shelter is taken away, these people will have to go to other cities, New Bern, Morehead City, and Wilmington, where the next closest shelters are.

Christina Bailey is the Homeless Shelter director for Onslow Community Ministries. I'm George Olsen.