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Wider count reveals higher homeless population in Asheville-Buncombe as new workgroup is elected

Lance Crawford, chair of the Continuum of Care’s Nominating and Membership Committee, speaks during a meeting at Harrah’s Cherokee Center on April 25, 2024.
Felicia Sonmez
Lance Crawford, chair of the Continuum of Care’s Nominating and Membership Committee, speaks during a meeting at Harrah’s Cherokee Center on April 25, 2024.

Asheville and Buncombe County’s newly restructured homelessness workgroup took a crucial step on Thursday night, electing its first board members.

The election took place at the second meeting of the Continuum of Care (CoC), a community planning body that works to build a collaborative response to homelessness. City and county leaders announced in December they would form a new group in response to recommendations made in a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

At Thursday night’s meeting at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, staff also released the results of the annual Point-in-Time count, which aims to tally the number of unhoused people in the county.

The count identified a total of 739 unhoused people in January 2024. This was an increase over last year’s total of 573 people. New methodology played a significant role in the uptick, according to Emily Ball, the city of Asheville’s homeless strategy division manager.

The latest figures, she said, are the most accurate to date.

“The CoC’s plans and decisions are only as good as the information that they have to use in shaping those plans and decisions,” Ball told BPR in an interview after the meeting. “So, for me, what’s exciting about this dataset is that it is the most accurate picture that we have had in all our years of conducting Point-in-Time counts.”

New methodology

The Point-in-Time count categorizes homelessness into two groups. One is called “sheltered” – meaning people who are living either in emergency shelters or in transitional housing. The other is “unsheltered” – meaning people who are living outdoors or in environments not designed for human habitation, such as in a vehicle, tent or abandoned building.

In early 2024, the count identified 739 unhoused people in Buncombe County. Of those, 520 were sheltered while 219 people were unsheltered.

With more volunteers, an expanded coverage area, an extra day of the count and other changes, officials say, the 2024 process uncovered a significantly higher number of people living unsheltered.

By comparison, the January 2023 Point-in-Time count found 402 people who were sheltered and 171 people who were unsheltered.

The methodology of this year’s count was different from the past in several key ways, Ball said. A total of 129 volunteers participated this year, an increase of 72% compared with 2023. This year’s team was led by an expanded planning group and it doubled its street count coverage by adding a second day of counting.

The 2024 count also added specific campsite outreach and service locations, including encampments outside Asheville city limits and all four Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry Crisis Ministries.

Lance Crawford, chair of the CoC’s Nominating and Membership Committee, said he hopes this year’s results motivate community members to help their neighbors who are experiencing homelessness.

“The number 739 really hits you in the gut,” Crawford, who is also the Director of Workforce Development at Goodwill Industries of Northwest NC, told the crowd at Thursday’s meeting.

“Let that be a motivation to stay engaged and encourage your fellow members to stay engaged and be a part of this work.”

More than 300 members so far

Previously, the main planning body charged with tackling homelessness in the region was called the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee (HIAC). That committee, which currently has 13 members, is expected to dissolve sometime in the coming months as the CoC, a much larger membership body, takes over.

All CoCs are overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which also provides funding. All communities that receive federal funding from HUD are required to conduct a Point-in-Time count of their homeless population at least every two years.

The Asheville-Buncombe CoC is governed by its charter, which was adopted at the group’s first meeting in late February. The charter calls for the CoC to have a 19-member board: 15 of those positions are elected by the membership, while four are appointed. There are also two non-voting liaisons, one each from the Buncombe County Commission and the Asheville City Council.

Those present Thursday night applauded when Crawford announced that the CoC currently has a total of 304 members – 252 individual members and 52 organizations. Membership is open to anyone “with an interest in understanding homelessness and taking action to address it.” Those interested in joining can apply online here.

At Thursday’s meeting, 105 members were present, 98 of whom are voting members. The new board was approved by an 80-to-16 vote, with 2 abstentions.

The membership voted for 10 of the 15 elected positions Thursday night. The remaining five will be elected at a future meeting.

The board members elected so far are:

Subject Matter Experts with Lived Experience of Homelessness (2): Josh Morrow of Sunrise Community and Karen Hayes-Roberts of Umoja

Healthcare System Representative: Melina Arrowood of Mission Hospital

Behavioral Healthcare System Representative: Celeste Ordiway of Vaya Health

Unsheltered Service Provider Representative: Scott Rogers of ABCCM

Shelter and Transitional Housing Provider: Christian Chambers of Safe Shelter

Permanent Housing Provider: Jenny Moffatt of Homeward Bound

Victim Service Provider: April Burgess-Johnson of Helpmate

Public Safety Representative: Asheville Police Chief Mike Lamb

Community Member (1 of 2): Rick Freeman of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods

The four appointed members are:

Asheville Housing Authority Staff: President and CEO Monique Pierre

Buncombe County Staff: Homelessness Program Manager Lacy Hoyle

City of Asheville Staff: City Manager Debra Campbell

Veterans Administration: Grant and Per Diem Liaison Katie Miller

The two non-voting liaisons are:

Buncombe County Commissioner: Parker Sloan

Asheville City Council Member: Mayor Esther Manheimer

The positions to be elected at a future meeting are:

  • Local Non-Governmental Funders Representative
  • Business Community Representative
  • Faith Community Representative
  • Supportive Provider Network Representative
  • Community Member Representative (2 of 2)

Laura Hackett contributed to this report.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.