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Asheville, Buncombe share initial recommendations for a low-barrier homeless shelter

Downtown Asheville on November 9, 2023.
Laura Hackett
A view of City Hall from downtown Asheville.

Years after the City of Asheville pulled the plug on a plan to build a low-barrier shelter for the city’s homeless community, another attempt has taken foot.

Lacy Hoyle, the county’s Homeless Program Manager, shared the shelter planning team’s latest recommendations at Thursday’s Homelessness Initiative Advisory Committee (HIAC) meeting.

The total cost of the project, funding sources and a timeframe are currently unknown. Prior attempts to create a shelter failed after the city said the $24 million renovation project was too costly.

During the presentation, Hoyle said “at this point, the planning process was not intended to and did not consider operational costs.” Financial planning for the project will “be happening in the future,” she said.

HIAC voted unanimously to approve the recommendations of the shelter planning team.

As next steps, members of the team will share the recommendations with the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council.

This time around, a city-county team, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Buncombe County Manager Avril Pinder, City Manager Debra Campbell, and nine other local leaders are responsible for planning the project.

The initial recommendations for the shelter are based on the projected number of unhoused and unsheltered residents in the Asheville area, which is expected to reach 212 by 2030. The shelter is part of the city and county’s larger goal of reducing unsheltered homelessness by 50% in the next two years.

As proposed, the shelter would be around 50,000 square feet, with 100 non-congregate (private and enclosed) bedrooms and 50 additional congregate beds. The shelter would stay open 24/7, allow pets, serve families, and provide transportation assistance for residents.

It would also offer wraparound services, including case management, medical care, daily meals, employment and housing placement support, substance use treatment, and other behavioral health support.

Hoyle said that based on best practices from the National Alliance to End Homelessness and HUD, the shelter “should offer immediate and low-barrier access, embrace the housing-first approach… avoid charging fees, allow people to enter who are intoxicated, and eliminate additional references or unnecessary requirements in order to have a bed.”

The shelter team has not identified a location for the development, but recommends that the site be within city limits and nearby transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks and ART bus routes. It also recommends that the shelter be near other homelessness service providers.

In prior attempts to stand up a shelter, acquisition of land proved too costly for the city, prompting city officials to relinquish a purchase contract to a private developer to build a permanent supportive housing project. The developer then failed to complete the project after more than two years of assurances.

Joell Steininger, a HIAC member who works for the WNC VA Health Care System, inquired if the shelter team had considered a non-centralized campus that was spread throughout neighborhoods.

Hoyle replied that “we think a single site would really be ideal, but we’re not opposed to multiple sites if that seems like it’s what would work best with all of the needs for the project.”

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.
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