With homelessness on the increase in Surry County, an organization in Mount Airy which provides temporary housing to those impacted by the problem is pursuing an expansion.
Officials of the Shepherd’s House, located on Rockford Street, are eyeing a new facility that would help meet its present demands in providing emergency shelter for women, children and families, while also including others not now served.
“We have to do something for our single men and veterans,” Shepherd’s House Director Mary Boyles said Tuesday regarding that latter segment.
The homeless shelter now is based in a large house, with the expansion planned nearby. “The new facility would be right behind us,” Boyles said of a location on Spring Street now dominated by a large lawn.
“And the facility that we’re in would be renovated,” she added of the plans for the Shepherd’s House, which opened in 2003.
These call for the new building to contain slightly more than 7,000 square feet. “Right now we’re looking at eight bedrooms,” Boyles said of what is to be provided, which also includes classroom space.
The planned expansion is emerging at a time of unprecedented demands for services of the homeless shelter, she indicated.
In 2016, 253 people were assisted. However, another 413 were turned away due to lack of space, including 197 children.
Due to the project being in its early stages, cost figures for it are uncertain. “We haven’t come up with a dollar amount,” Boyles said Tuesday.
“We’re going to do a capital campaign,” she said regarding the fundraising measures for the expansion, with some anonymous donations in “large amounts” already received. An endowment fund also has been launched.
The space presently occupied by the Shepherd’s House and grounds is owned by the nearby Haymore Memorial Baptist Church and being leased by the shelter on a long-term basis for $1 per year.
“We went before Haymore’s deacons, and they were ecstatic,” Boyles said of church officials’ reaction to the expansion plans.
City action needed
Before it can become reality, the Shepherd’s House project must clear some governmental hurdles.
Since the property involved is in the local historic district, the new structure and site improvements will require a certificate of appropriateness from the Mount Airy Historic Preservation Commission, according to city Planning Director Andy Goodall.
Also, the portion of the site where the proposed development work is to occur does not have the same zoning as the present shelter and will require rezoning, Goodall pointed out.
That process will begin with the Mount Airy Planning Board’s review and recommendation and end with a public hearing and decision by the city commissioners.
Boyles said the plans will be submitted to the city for review later this summer.
“Lasting success” sought
The rise in homelessness locally can be blamed on a combination of factors, the Shepherd’s House director says.
These include chronic unemployment, drug use, domestic abuse, broken homes and others. Another is a lack of low-income housing that is pricing some people out of the market.
“The average rent in Surry County is over $600,” Boyles said.
She said that in trying to serve the homeless veteran population in particular, the Shepherd’s House is reaching out to local military groups for their input on how to accomplish this. “So we’re doing our homework.”
Boyles said her dream is a transitional housing arrangement where clients are sheltered for a limited time while being prepared to live on their own, including how to manage utility bills.
“We want to have lasting success,” she said of helping shelter residents achieve long-term independence through education or other means, “instead of a temporary Band-Aid.”
Boyles acknowledged Tuesday that expansion projects such as the one sought by the Shepherd’s House can draw neighborhood opposition, and she hopes the community will embrace the need to help folks with nowhere to turn.
“You always meet with opposition, but these are God’s people.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.