County considers shelters for homeless, domestic violence victims

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County officials plan to investigate using part of about $5 million in federal funds to build shelters for the homeless and those escaping domestic violence.

The county commissioners voted Monday to consider a proposed plan for how to use the money Hoke has received from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) allocation. County Manager Letitia Edens and her staff worked to offer recommendations for ways to use the funding. The plan will direct the funding toward multiple projects.

The county will set aside about $1.1 million of the ARP funds for potentially building a shelter or shelters. Another $2.5 million will go toward two water and sewer projects in the county. The remaining $1.4 million will go toward paying back county funds used to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional options on the table for using the money included improving broadband internet access, and pursuing low-income housing. The county will also receive another $5 million next year from the funding package.

Hoke currently doesn’t have a homeless shelter or a domestic violence shelter. When a person who is homeless or escaping domestic violence seeks help from a local agency, those agencies have to send them to a shelter outside of the county.

Commission Chairman Harry Southerland said homelessness is “a national crisis, not only in Hoke County.”

Southerland said he spoke with the director of the Hoke County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center in Raeford, who said that every month, about 10 people from the county are in domestic violence shelters. The chairman also cited information from the state about Hoke’s homeless population.

“According to stats in Raleigh, we have about 1,700 homeless veterans from Hoke County, so there is a need here. And that’s not talking about the regular population that are homeless that’s living behind Walmart, in the woods and other places,” Southerland said. “So I do ask the board to consider $1.1 million to go toward some sort of homeless shelter.”

In discussions, Commissioner James Leach proposed that it would be better to build two separate shelters: one for homeless citizens, and one in a separate location for people fleeing domestic violence. That’s due to the different needs of people who are escaping an abusive situation, he said.

“Let’s keep those two separated,” Leach said.

Further details of the plan haven’t been decided yet. In response to a question from an audience member, Edens confirmed any such shelter would be constructed on land that the county already owns. The board members also briefly discussed that county government could potentially pay to construct the shelters, and then turn them over to a local group to operate long-term.

The shelters would be a temporary safe place for people in Hoke who need help to get stabilized and back on their feet. It would not be permanent housing meant to provide a home long-term, but would offer job training and other support services to assist people in securing their own housing.

“We want to have them in a position to transition back into the community,” Southerland said.

Many local volunteers have worked to help the homeless in Hoke County. Groups such as the Open Door Soup Kitchen, Hoke County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center and the Hoke County Re-entry Council work with Hoke County Department of Social Services and other agencies to help those in need.

Rev. Al Anderson, who serves as chairman of several relevant nonprofits, requested that the commissioners involve those groups in the discussion.

The commissioners will meet again Monday to resume discussion of several topics, including plans for the shelters.

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