Public voices heard on homelessness in Southern Pines

At the Southern Pines Town Council Work Session on Jan. 23, community members spoke on the pressing issue of homelessness in the area. Speakers from various backgrounds and all walks of life — including the current homeless community — were present to share their concerns, provide insights, and spread awareness.

The meeting opened with the public comments segment, where citizens were given three minutes each to express their thoughts. Speakers included concerned citizens, members of the Moore County School system, individuals who have experienced homelessness, and Cliff Brown, the founder, executive director, and president of TEAM WORKZ.

The first speaker was Sean Larson, a resident of Raleigh. He encouraged Southern Pines to pave the way for other communities, including larger cities such as Raleigh and Durham, to proactively address homelessness. Larson noted that homelessness cannot be tackled by one or two institutions — churches, synagogues, nonprofits, schools, etc. — but requires community effort.

“I think Southern Pines is uniquely adapted to deal with the homelessness issue because of organizations like TEAM WORKZ [that] are led with vision, uniquely resourced, and positioned to be able to deal with homelessness in an immediate capacity and an ongoing capacity,” said Larson. “It affects all of the community, and it’s a problem that can only be dealt with by a whole community approach.”

Shortly thereafter, Brown approached the podium to discuss the challenges currently faced by TEAM WORKZ. The organization assists individuals experiencing homelessness, including veterans, families, and vulnerable individuals.

Brown stressed the need for emergency shelters in the Southern Pines area, proposing the use of available land to build temporary shelters that could aid in the transition of unsheltered individuals back into stable living conditions. He noted that though the county recently provided warming stations during the extreme weather, the stations were in Carthage, while the majority of the unsheltered population is in the Southern Pines area and generally lacks the transportation to get to Carthage.

Council member Debra Gray questioned Brown’s assertion that much of the Moore County homeless population is in the Southern Pines area and instead noted the encampment behind Staples in Aberdeen. Brown explained that the municipality borders are often blurred or shared in the area and that the Southern Pines and Aberdeen police departments both respond to the area.

“When I talked to the Aberdeen Town Council, they said they have a problem with jurisdiction down there,” explained Brown. “The Southern Pines Police Department calls me to pick up people that are out there; I just got a call the other night. The majority of your homeless people in this area are in Southern Pines jurisdiction.”

Council member Ann Petersen voiced concerns about being unable to reliably reach organizations even when she wants to donate, noting that she’s visited TEAM WORKZ to donate supplies and found the center closed. Brown explained that TEAM WORKZ works on a volunteer basis, so if all volunteers are busy providing transportation for unsheltered individuals or working in the community, they are often short-staffed at the physical center.

He noted volunteers (himself included) spend money out of their own pockets and are often spread thin due to lack of funding and help, which is why assistance is needed. “We work with volunteers. There’s no paid staff,” Brown said to Petersen. “For [months], I’m asking every day, please help us.”

To support Brown and provide different perspectives, individuals who have received help from TEAM WORKZ and have experienced homelessness were present to share. Speakers shared the sentiment that they didn’t know how they would have survived or found the resources to rise above their situation if not for these community efforts.

One individual came forward to speak on his recent experience. A 78-year-old veteran living in his truck with his border collie Murphy, Ed O’Keefe, expressed profound gratitude to TEAM WORKZ outreach.

“I was getting to the point of feeling a little hopeless until they threw me a lifeline,” said O’Keefe. He paused, collecting his emotions. “I would just appreciate any support you can give to them. They’re wonderful people, and there’s people out there that are even worse off than I am.”

Later, Tambra Chamberlain spoke as district liaison on homelessness for Moore County Schools and foster care point of contact. She discussed the rise in homelessness within Moore County in recent years, citing “doubled-up” living situations due to a lack of affordable housing, causing multiple families (often with children) to share a residence. Chamberlain emphasized the need for addressing homelessness among unaccompanied youth and school-aged children, as it is becoming an increasing concern.

For more information on TEAM WORKZ, please click here

Feature photo: Cliff Brown, founder of TEAM WORKZ, addresses the Southern Pines Town Council on Jan. 23/video screenshot from the Southern Pines Town Council meeting.

~Written by Sandhills Sentinel reporter Abegail Murphy. 

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