New Hanover County and Wilmington officials discuss homelessness and poverty in the Cape Fear

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wednesday, New Hanover County Commissioners and Wilmington City Council members held a special joint meeting to discuss homelessness, poverty and inequality in the Cape Fear.

They hoped to find answers by forming community partnerships with groups already working to make Wilmington a better place.

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Their first item on the docket was homelessness. More than 20 percent of Wilmington’s homeless population have been without a place to live for more than a year, a fact not lost on Mayor Pro-tem, Margaret Haynes.

“It’s just not going to be good enough to open the door and say here’s a bed for the night,” said Haynes.

People need a roof over their head and resources to help them transition back into society, Haynes continued.

“And that’s why Eden Village,” Haynes explained, “they’re going to have services and provide all sorts of support opportunities.”

But unfortunately, Eden Village can’t do it alone. They have the plan, the volunteers, and tiny house already built. But without the funding, said social worker Donna Evans, they can’t help men and women start their new lives. Evans was ecstatic to hear Wilmington and New Hanover County were considering a partnership.

“It gives me hope,” said Evans. “We’ve had a few grants that we didn’t get, and that was disappointing. I really hope that the county and city understand this is not just a few social workers or a few people that care about homelessness. We have over a thousand citizens, not 100, 1000 citizens that have called and said, I want to be apart of this.”

Minority poverty levels were also a major topic in Wednesday’s meeting.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 22 percent of Wilmington’s population lives in poverty. The pandemic has made this disparities worse, but groups like Genesis Block are aiming to change that.

“They’re looking at minority and women-owned businesses and they’re launching them,” said Deb Hays, Vice Chair of the New Hanover County commissioners. “And they’re making sure that before they get launched….they’re really ready to go.”

According to Genesis Block’s founder, Girard Newkirk, they’ve already partnered with the county, and the city has shown interest in using the group to reinvest in the community.

“It’s really exciting to see that our county and our city are getting behind promoting small business ownership and entrepreneurship in the minority sector especially,” said Newkirk, “And so we look forward to it.”

Both the city and county came to the same conclusion at the end of the meeting.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. summed up his colleagues’ thoughts, saying, “It’s going to take more than the county and the city putting in ten thousand dollars or twenty five thousand dollars a year and hoping that things will get better. To me, we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is and provide somehow.”

Commissioners and the Council will meet again in the coming months with more details on potential partnerships.