Hundreds attend State of Homelessness Forum in Wilmington

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Vigilant Hope, a nonprofit based in Wilmington, hosted the State of Homelessness Forum at the Harrelson Center on Monday.

More than 200 people came out to learn more about homelessness in the Cape Fear Area, hear words from people experiencing homelessness, and have their questions answered by panelists.

“There’s already incredible things happening in our city but there’s an evident need for more and more resources and I believe every single person who came here tonight has the ability to have some type of resource to take part in helping their city in this crisis,” Vigilant Hope Executive Director Jeremy Hardy said.

According to a presentation by a representative from the Good Shepherd Center, about 150 people are sleeping on the street every night in Wilmington.

During a panel discussion, panelists praised the outreach efforts being made by city and county social workers, but say county commissioners made their jobs harder after passing the ordinance that prevents sleeping on county property. 

Before the ordinance was passed, many people in the homeless community gathered at the New Hanover County Public Library at the corner of Grace and 3rd Streets downtown.

“The library was not ideal in any way and that’s not something to be disagreed about, but what the public library has always done, historically, it’s been a welcoming space for any person to go. What it created there was a sense of normalcy in a very abnormal world. Where people could be found by mental health providers,” Pastor Meg McBride said.

McBride is a pastor and sits on the Cape Fear Homeless Continuum of Care board. She shared a story about a friend of hers who is a peer support specialist for a mental health provider in the area. She says her friend spends her days medicating people to help keep them out of jail and the hospital. Since the ordinance was passed, she says her friend has had a difficult time locating her usual clients.

“If you can’t be here then where? …I would have loved to have seen a where first before there was a no,” McBride said.

Jonathan Barfield also served as a panelist. He is the only county commissioner who voted against the ordinance.  Something he continually reiterated is that homelessness should not be criminalized.

“It takes time to build trust where people will let you help them, but now we’ve pushed individuals out further and further away. They still need help, they’re just afraid to be downtown,” Barfield said.

To help address homelessness, McBride and other faith-based groups are working to open a day shelter downtown. They’ve hit some obstacles as members of the community voiced opposition to the location of the shelter. However, McBride says they will continue to look for opportunities to open a day shelter in the downtown area.

At the beginning of the event, organizers said people would not leave experts on homelessness or housing, but hoped they would leave with a motivation to make a difference.

For more information on Vigilant Hope and how they are working to end homelessness, visit here.

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