By Chris Russell
At least 184 men, women and children will spend Christmas in an emergency or homeless shelter in the Wilmington area this year, according to reports from local shelters.
The two largest shelters, Salvation Army’s Center for Hope and the Good Shepherd Center each expect 45 or more. Family Promise of the Lower Cape Fear, part of Wilmington Interfaith Hospitality Service, counts 32 and Rescue Mission of Cape Fear reports 27 in its two facilities.
Open Gate, a domestic violence shelter, will house 16, First Fruits Ministries expects 12, and Open House, the emergency-only shelter for youth ages 6 to 18, expects 7, for a total of 184.
There are more than seven shelters in the Wilmington area; some operate by one agency but separate men and women, thus providing two shelters.
Finding the number of people who will spend Christmas in area homeless shelters can be a difficult number to assess. Several shelters said that some people staying in the facilities will leave to spend Christmas with family, making the actual homeless population a bit higher on a daily basis.
The numbers cited do not include all the transitional facilities in the area, such as the 20 people housed with Linc, a transitional housing agency for people who have just exited prison or jail; or PORT Human Services, an agency that houses people recovering from substance abuse.
There is not one comprehensive list of functioning night shelters that can be had from an online search. A Yahoo search for “homeless shelters in Wilmington, NC”, provides a list topped with Mercy House, a facility that has been closed for six months.
A Google search listed United Way as a shelter, but it is not one; however, they will direct you to call 2-1-1, to find community health and human service resources. The call leads to going online to find a list of night shelters via NC211.org. Their list of four is accurate, but not complete.
“We are a small agency and only help families. We give a hand up and try to make a big impact on a small group of people,” said Anne Best, executive director of Family Promise of the Lower Cape Fear.
Best pointed out that homelessness could happen to almost anybody.
“We recently helped one family whose child became deathly sick and was having seizures. They found out their home was contaminated with toxic mold. They had to leave everything behind that might be contaminated and the mother had to quit work to care for the child,” Best said. Family Promise was able to house the family and the child has nearly recovered from the mold-related illnesses.
Cecile Patrick with First Fruits Ministries said that their shelter operation is small. They are currently assisting mothers with two to four children each. “The food pantry is our largest operation,” Patrick said.
Matt Tape with FFM said they have a mobile unit that provides food every Wednesday and Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, from about 6-7 p.m. They also feed a couple of hundred people three days a week from their campus on Vance Street.
“We also have a ministry to shut-in widows. Volunteers pack a box of food and take a warm meal that has been prepared to about a dozen widows,” Tape said.
New numbers of area homeless will be collected on Jan. 27, 2016. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to submit data every other year in order to qualify for federal homeless assistance funds. This one day data collection is called a Point-in-Time count.
The North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness has a link to the most recent PiT data collected. It shows a variety of homeless statistics including by age, race, gender. Half of the homeless counted in the state are children under the age of 18. The data can be viewed at www.ncceh.org/pitdata/.
Wilmington area homeless shelters Christmas occupancy
The Salvation Army – Center for Hope 45
Good Shepherd Center 45
Family Promise (Wilmington Interfaith Hospitality Network) 32
Rescue Mission of Cape Fear 27
First Fruit Ministries 12
Domestic Violence Shelter – the Open Gate 16
Open House (youth 6 – 18) 7