Big changes are just around the corner for the nonprofit Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, executive director John Dorward said.
Walls are going up on the two-story, 16,543-square-foot Community House, at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The $5.76 million shelter is expected to open by late August, Dorward said, although the official date will depend on the weather and the pace of construction.
The project will cap Dorward’s time as executive director. He took over in July 2013 when longtime IFC leader Chris Moran retired. The idea was that he would stay for two years, Dorward said, or until the organization raised the money for the shelter.
He and other IFC officials were interviewing potential replacements last week. They could hire his someone by July or August, he said.
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The new hire will complete the IFC shelter’s move from 100 W. Rosemary St. to Community House, before starting on a long-delayed FoodFirst building project in Carrboro. The Community Kitchen, now at the West Rosemary Street shelter, will remain there until the FoodFirst center opens.
The center – a proposed three-level building with surface parking underneath – would replace the IFC’s offices and food pantry at 110 W. Main St.
Town staff and the IFC are working on zoning issues and other modifications now, Carrboro Planning Director Trish McGuire said. The project could return to the Board of Aldermen for a hearing later this year, Dorward said, and fundraising and construction could take two more years.
Community House, meanwhile, will offer transitional housing for 52 men and emergency space for 17 more in bad weather. The IFC won’t be able to get everyone off the street, Dorward said, but the transitional housing will help more men find housing, jobs, substance abuse and medical care, and other services.
The shelter averaged more than 20 men when it turned bitter cold this winter, he said, and it has sheltered as many as 29 in the past. The Chapel Hill Police Department and the old shelter, until the town puts the historic property to a new use, could continue providing emergency overflow space, he said.
Some people have waited more than a year to get into Community House, which serves homeless men, and Project HomeStart, a shelter for women and children on Homestead Road, he said. Dorward suspects the interest may be, in part, because other Triangle shelters also are crowded.
“(The other) part of it is we’re doing something right, and people are hearing our shelter is where they can get back on their feet,” Dorward said.
He expects to move to Community House could encourage more local conversations about homelessness.
The county has been exploring ways to collaborate with its partners for some time, said Jamie Rohe, homeless programs coordinator for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.
The 100,000 Homes Taskforce, for instance, includes roughly 20 agencies that work with the homeless, from police and health care workers to housing advocates and social workers. The task force meets every month to develop treatment plans for the community’s chronically homeless residents, most of whom have serious health, mental health or substance abuse problems.
Support networks play a huge role in helping the chronically homeless, Rohe said, whether it’s friends and family or a social worker who checks in from time to time. Other homeless individuals may be more self-sufficient and just need help getting back on their feet, she said.
“We have to constantly ask ourselves what are the best practices, and how do we get the best bang for the buck,” she said.
Local agencies and governments are always searching for money, Rohe and other advocates say. Cuts in state and federal money makes local programs, such as Chapel Hill’s Penny for Housing approved last year, even more important, she said.
The Penny for Housing program sets aside one cent on the town’s tax rate, or roughly $700,000, each year to help create more affordable housing.