A silent society not recognized by many
Say Moore County, and one can visualize manicured golf courses, large homes and sprawling horse farms. Mostly unseen and forgotten are the homeless families, children and veterans. They live on the edge of society in tents behind stores and wooded areas, sleep on couches, stay in hotels and live in their cars.
Cliff Brown, the Founder/Director of TEAM WORKZ, wants to bring awareness to the challenges of homelessness in Moore County.
Brown is a friendly, no-nonsense man who retired from the North Carolina Department of Corrections and served as President of the State Employees Association. In February 2019, he formed the non-profit organization TEAM WORKZ. TEAM stands for Together Everyone Accomplishes More.
Transitional Advancement Center
While currently TEAM WORKZ has been collecting and distributing donated clothing and hygiene items to the homeless, their plan is to establish a Transitional Advancement Center in Moore County. “It would provide a path out of homelessness for those less fortunate and need a hand up, not just a handout,” said Brown.
One possible location for a Transitional Advancement Center is the old Aberdeen Primary School. The former school on 7.24 acres could be ideal for the homeless to live while they learn needed life skills, get their GED or college degree, learn a trade and build their finances to be able to become a productive citizen in society again.
Sarah Monzillo (L), Pastor Linn Fisher(C) and Cliff Brown(R), members of TEAM WORKZ, toured the vacant Aberdeen Primary School last week.
“We could sponsor programs that teach brick masonry, plumbing, carpentry, electrical and more. They can earn certificates so they can go out and get a job. The labor market is wide open when it comes to needing trades people. This school is also in an area where TEAM WORKZ could greatly benefit the community around it, just like Place of Grace in Rockingham has done with their school,” Brown said.
The school, built in the 1920s, is listed for sale by a Raleigh development company. With seven buildings including a gymnasium, cafeteria, media center, offices and classrooms is under strong consideration by the TEAM WORKZ board of directors. The bidding process ends in October and TEAM WORKZ is praying for a miracle to help them obtain this facility.
The number of homeless in Moore County has historically been uncounted. This past January was the first official Point in Time (PIT) count for Moore County and TEAM WORKZ conducted that count.
The lack of accurate information comes partly on just how to define homeless. The stereo-typical notion of the homeless is that of someone living on the streets, but the National Coalition for the Homeless also includes those individuals that need shelter for a short period and those that live in hotel rooms or doubled up with their families. It is broken down in two categories, sheltered and unsheltered. TEAM WORKZ is primarily dealing with the unsheltered living in tents and vehicles.
“The reasons people become homeless vary greatly,” Sarah Monzillo, TEAM WORKZ Operations Director says. “It’s always associated with a loss. People have lost their jobs, lost their family or lost their support system. They also leave abusive situations and choose to be homeless, so they are not in that situation anymore. It is not an easy path to rebuild when you leave your husband of 20 years.”
TEAM WORKZ is seeing more single women and families showing up in homelessness now since the COVID-19 lockdowns started. “We are providing all the services we have available and working with partner organizations to help them,” according to Monzillo.
COVID-19 has an exaggerated impact on the homeless. Food pantries, tent cities and homeless shelters have all seen an increase. Across Moore County, people that have lost their minimum wage jobs and without savings are having to choose between paying the rent or feeding their families. Some have seen their lives fall apart, relying on all too few safety-net programs.
Pastor Linn Fisher, TEAM WORKZ Outreach Director and an 18-year veteran, military Chaplain and Colonel said “I’ve seen a lot of trauma with our veterans and that can translate into homelessness if it is not dealt with. We do have a lot of homeless veterans. I’m very passionate about addressing those issues and finding ways to help.”
Pastor Fisher, a soft-spoken gentle man, said “So many of our veterans and their families have been severely traumatized that they’re out on the streets.”
According to a new estimate, veterans make up 11% of the homeless population in North Carolina. That number has been on the decline in recent years. Still, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Homeless Assessment Report estimates 37,878 veterans are homeless in North Carolina.
Pastor Fisher has a degree in psychotherapy. The homeless veterans he works with, many suffering from PTSD, struggle with drug and alcohol problems. “I’ve had veterans say ‘have you been to the sandbox?’ to which I say yes three times.” Being deployed to the Middle East three times gives Pastor Fisher instant credibility with veterans and allows them to open up more to him.
“And then you have children that have been abandoned. They come home, and their parents are not there anymore. So, they are homeless” says Pastor Fisher.
TEAM WORKZ has been beneficial in assisting more families this year, with children from 3 to 17 years old. They are providing clothing, personal hygiene items and even gave one 6-year-old girl a birthday party.
Monzillo is passionate about her role in helping youth. Experience with residential treatment facilities and as a foster care caseworker, she previously worked for North American Family Institute in Connecticut.
“They’re not always counted as being homeless because they might go from couch to couch,” Monzillo said.
The National Center for Homeless Education reports that 1.5 million school-aged children experienced homelessness in the 2017-2018 school year – an 11% increase over the previous school year. The highest number ever recorded nationally.
Cliff Brown, Founder/Director of TEAM WORKZ, at the vacant Aberdeen Primary School.
According to one estimate, Moore County currently has 174 homeless children. This number includes families living together due to lack of stable housing, families living in condemned or substandard housing and shelters. Federal data reported to the U.S. Department of Education shows an estimated 28,903 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of a year.
Children in our community are undoubtedly enrolled in Moore County Schools and struggle with being homeless, trying to maintain grades or fit into social activities.
TEAM WORKZ is accepting donations of socks, underwear, snacks and hygiene items like toothpaste, soap and other grooming supplies. These items are put in clear bags, called blessing bags, and distributed to those in need. For a list of items that can be donated, visit their Facebook page.
Also, now that the weather is getting colder, warmer clothing and blankets are needed.
Cliff Brown added “It takes all of us working together, regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs or political affiliations; to make a difference in the lives of those we work to help live better lives. We need to put aside our petty sides and look at those that are suffering most and ask yourself ‘have I done enough to make a difference in someone’s life’ and if you haven’t then join TEAM WORKZ and let’s make a real difference together.”
To become active with TEAM WORKZ and or donate to help their mission; contact them online at WWW.TEAMWORKZ.ORG, follow their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TEAMWORKZ.org, email [email protected] or call 910-315-0262 for assistance or to donate.
They also accept monetary donations of any amount on their website. Checks can be mailed to TEAM WORKZ, PO Box 3614, Pinehurst, NC 28374.
Feature photo: Matthew and Stephanie are part of a growing population of homeless in Moore County. Stephanie is expecting a baby in 2 months. People that have lost their minimum wage jobs and without savings are having to choose between paying the rent or feeding their families.
~Article and photos by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.