Homelessness in Moore County: A family issue

Finding safe, affordable and sustainable housing in Moore County has been a challenge during the pandemic and for the last five decades.

A demographic trend article in the “Journal of Marriage and Family,” states the last five decades have seen a reduction in two-parent families, and it resulted in different educational paths and family dissolutions.

“Lack of family support can contribute to homelessness,” said Dr. Anne Friesen, executive director of Friend to Friend, a Moore County non-profit organization that offers help to all persons affected by interpersonal violence. “Families often need tools and resources to help their love-ones experiencing homelessness. Without a community safety net, homeless individuals often find it difficult to consistently connect with supportive services. Some homeless individuals struggle with addiction and find it hard to maintain employment.”

According to Friend to Friend’s Counselor and Housing Case Manager Winona Coveney, a national level Point in Time count that records homelessness statistics was not conducted in Moore County until last year when she helped lead it with Team Workz, an organization that also deals with homelessness. She considers the 23 homeless count “absolutely under” because they did not venture into rural areas.

Homelessness in Moore County: family issue

Sarah Monzillo (L), Pastor Linn Fisher(C) and Cliff Brown(R), members of TEAM WORKZ, toured the vacant Aberdeen Primary School last year hoping to convert it into a Transitional Advancement Center ~Sandhills Sentinel/John Patota.

Before the count, Coveney said that many believed there were no homeless citizens in Moore County. This year, the legitimacy of homelessness rates will be compromised again – by the pandemic because a live headcount is not safe.

The count is used by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to determine funding for safe, affordable and sustainable housing.

A few organizations helping people secure housing have been operating in the county for decades. Friend to Friend has been operating for 33 years, the Southern Pines Housing Authority has been operating for 55 years, and Family Promise of Moore County has been operating for 21 years.

These three housing assistance organizations each cite lack of safe, affordable and sustainable housing as a factor in homelessness. They each work with Section 8 Housing through Sandhills Community Action Program and with other Moore County agencies and with private landlords.

Private landlords benefit from Section 8 renters because the housing authority pays the landlord directly, plus the Section 8 Housing Voucher recipient pays 30% of their income.

Developers of safe, affordable and sustainable housing receive tax credits through the state’s HUD Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program. Developers then offer the tax credits to investors to fund the housing.

There are over 4,700 acres of available land in Moore County, and one hindrance in building is the higher land rates for the county. In the outskirts, Robbins and Cameron prices are lower.

In metropolis areas with convenient shopping, tent cities, with exact locations kept in confidentiality, are increasing as homeless citizens opt to live in the essentially “rule-free” areas where some abuse substances.

Homelessness in Moore: A family issue

Matthew and Stephanie are part of a growing population of homeless in 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 ~Sandhills Sentinel/John Patota/2020.

“When visiting a small, local homeless tent campsite, I noticed hundreds of aerosol cans on the path,” Friesen said. “When I asked them what the cans were used for,  they said they used them for a cheap high. There is a real need for addiction recovery programs in our area. Homelessness and lack of transportation can make it very difficult for homeless individuals who also struggle with addiction, to access help and support for their addiction.”

Unsheltered homeless citizens, including those with “substance use disorders” and their families, may receive Rapid Rehousing, a program with a “housing first” priority. The program is run through Sandhills Community Action Program.

The Southern Pines Housing Authority has 100 units available and is at 98% occupancy. They have a waiting list and cannot offer emergency housing.

Family Promise of Moore County sheltered 22 families in 2020, and the average stay was 28 days. They assist women and children but not those with a domestic violence situation.

Friend to Friend does assist those in a domestic violence situation, including men, women and children, and helps human trafficking victims. In 2020, 544 survivors were provided support, care and services. Legal advocacy, safety planning, information and resources were served to 431 clients, and they completed 322 protective orders.

Survivor “Ms. Jones” (protective pseudo name) shared her perspective on life before help from Friend to Friend, and her hopes for the future.

Ms. Jones shares what life was like before reaching out for help.

Ms. Jones, who manages her bipolar disorder with a physician and medication, has been drug-free for three years. She still has cravings and calls on her past therapist whenever she struggles.

She is a survivor of domestic abuse and found permanent housing through Rapid Rehousing at Friend to Friend.

Ms. Jones shares her goals and future goals.

“I was in rehab several times, but I didn’t let it work,” said Jones.  “I got it in my mind and did it myself – cold turkey. It was the kids or drugs, and I chose the kids.”

To contact Friend to Friend, please call their advocacy office at 910-947-1703. To reach their crisis line, please call 910-947-3333. Family Promise of Moore County can be reached at 910-944-7149. Please call 910-692-2042 to speak with the Southern Pines Housing Authority.

Feature photo: L,R; Karen Laviner of Southern Pines Housing Authority, Susan Bellew of Family Promise of Moore County, and Anne Friesen of Friend to Friend. Contributed photos.

Article and videos by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Stephanie M. Sellers.

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