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Expect an increase in unhoused people in Asheville, Buncombe from annual Point-In-Time count, volunteers say

Volunteers gather supplies before heading out for the Point-In-Time count.
Laura Hackett
Volunteers gather supplies before heading out for the Point-In-Time count.

More than 130 volunteers traversed the streets of Asheville last night and this morning to conduct the annual Point-In-Time Count, an effort to measure the number of unhoused people in the area.

Equipped with clipboards, highlighter-yellow vests, head lamps, granola bars, and extra socks, volunteers covered every corner of the city in search of people who do not have homes.

Debbie Alford, a City of Asheville Homeless Strategy Specialist, said the annual tradition which is a requirement for federal funding also gives a “voice for people who don't often feel like they have a voice.”

Debbie Alford, a city employee, gives instructions to volunteers at Haywood Street Congregation, before sending them out for the annual Point-In-Time count.
Laura Hackett
Debbie Alford, a city employee, gives instructions to volunteers at Haywood Street Congregation, before sending them out for the annual Point-In-Time count.

The Point-In-Time count helps the city “gather some demographics about this population, really determine what programs we might need in our community, who is most vulnerable and helps us plan for the future,” Alford added.

Last year, the city identified 573 unhoused people. Jade Brown, a case manager for the housing nonprofit Homeward Bound, expects the number to be even higher this year.

“It absolutely has increased drastically, from my standpoint of being in the homeless community and seeing the amount of new faces that are coming,” she told BPR at the Point-In-Time kickoff event at Haywood Street Congregation.

“There is nowhere else for [the homeless community] to go, other than the day shelter or the couple of shelters we have in town that can’t house all our homeless,” she said.

Carl Falconer, the CEO of Homeward Bound, said he places a lot of value on this annual ritual. He has participated in about 40 Point-In-Time counts in his career, he told BPR.

“It shows you the breadth of the people that are out there,” he said. “It's not just one individual or one type of individual or one person with one problem. But every single person that you run into and you survey and you talk to has a completely different life story… when you go and you talk to multiple people, you realize it is not simple. There's not one simple solution for every single person that's out there.”

Falconer said having more permanent supportive housing, such as the recently-opened Compass Point Village, would help address the growing issue of homelessness in Asheville.

“You have a significant amount of people who cannot or will not go to shelter,” he explained. “The permanent supportive housing option really gives them that option to be able to get into housing and then get wraparound services with them that will support them with mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, things like that.”

Jade Brown, a case manager with Homeward Bound, chats with fellow volunteers at Haywood Street Congregation.
Laura Hackett
Jade Brown, a case manager with Homeward Bound, chats with fellow volunteers at Haywood Street Congregation.

The failed Ramada Inn would’ve added more than 100 units of permanent supportive housing to the mix, inventory that Falconer acknowledged is sorely needed.

He added, “We have 81 residents now at Compass Point Village that came off of the street. So those would in fact be people that we would be counting out on the streets today… but we got them off the streets and now they’re living in their own apartment.”

The results from the survey will be released in early spring.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.