GREENSBORO — The organization serving as the community’s largest emergency safety net didn’t have to go far to hire its next executive director.
Brian Hahne, the executive director of Partners Ending Homelessness, a local nonprofit organization committed to ending homelessness in Guilford County, has been chosen to lead the Greensboro Urban Ministry.
He also helped coordinate the countywide approach to housing the homeless during the pandemic.
Hahne, who starts Jan. 3, is inheriting an agency that has a solid foundation, but continues to be challenged by the complexity of issues at its door, including homelessness, hunger and people who need help keeping the lights on.
A graduate of Furman University, Hahne holds master’s degrees from UNCG and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has also worked in the fields of homelessness and faith for two decades.
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“Brian impressed our search committee as a passionate advocate for improving the lives of others,” said Dave Youngdahl, chairman of the social service agency’s board. “The board believes his considerable experience and understanding of the issues of homelessness and poverty will contribute to the continued success of our mission and ministry.”
Hahne, a former church pastor in Winston-Salem, previously served as executive director of that city’s Veterans Helping Veterans Heal, a 24-bed transitional housing program for veterans experiencing homelessness.
“It just seemed like the right fit,” Hahne said after being introduced to Urban Ministry employees.
Hahne replaces Myron Wilkins, who accepted a position in February as president and CEO of the Clinton, S.C.-based Thornwell, a multistate nonprofit serving children and families.
When Wilkins, a Baptist preacher with a master’s degree in social work, came to Greensboro Urban Ministry, local agencies working with the homeless and the poor were at odds over how the agency’s shelter — the largest in the city — was run. Eventually, those agencies and the city came up with coordinated housing solutions that are still being worked out.
Hahne says that the local response to the pandemic has provided a blueprint for moving forward on homeless issues. As part of the local COVID-19 response team, he often met weekly with leadership from every shelter, city and county, public health officials, and others.
“We’ve all had to learn, especially in the last few years, how to partner together, to collaborate in ways we didn’t have to two and a half years ago,” Hahne said.
There’s no one agency that can do it all, he said.
“I think it’s going to take that kind of leadership,” Hahne said. “We’ve said this all along that we are better together than apart.”
Urban Ministry, a faith-based organization founded in 1967, is the largest provider of emergency assistance locally through donations and government grants, and provides a mix of overnight and more permanent housing.
The nonprofit’s footprint includes a multi-million-dollar operating budget with a food bank, a community kitchen and the area’s largest shelter.
The group also operates the Pathways Center, which provides temporary housing for 16 families, who have their own apartments and stay there for free while working with caseworkers. As soon as a family moves out, another moves in.
With Beyond GUM, a rapid-rehousing program, the group works with homeless individuals and might pay off past rent and utility bills or the deposits that are keeping them from signing leases.
Urban Ministry also oversees the Weaver Extension program, which partners with area churches and nonprofits that convert Sunday school classrooms or open spaces in their buildings to provide shelter for people who are homeless during the coldest months of the year.
On weekdays, volunteers help run a food bank designed to look like a mini-grocery store where families shop for the foods they want.
Hahne has already talked to the board about other ideas to combat, for example, a dwindling of retiree volunteers since the onset of the pandemic. He’s got ideas about drawing in the faith community and younger volunteers, as he did with Partners Ending Homelessness.
“They may not come with all the experience but there’s energy, a teachability that we can lean into,” Hahne said.
That includes students coming out of local social work programs, the area’s divinity schools and seminaries, and the chaplaincy program at Greensboro Urban Ministry.
Hahne also says he appreciates Urban Ministry’s work in the community and the legacy that goes back generations.
“And the fact that there’s a real energy about the future,” Hahne said.