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Our Opinion: A house divided hurts homeless

Our Opinion: A house divided hurts homeless

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Good people can have honest differences.

No one agrees all the time, even if their intentions are good. And even if their goals are the same.

But the widening rift between the city of Greensboro and a local alliance that provides shelter and support for the homeless is both a surprise and a concern.

At issue is the best approach for solving the county's homelessness issue.

The city favors an approach that stresses permanent housing.

The Guilford County Continuum for Ending Homelessness concentrates more on providing temporary shelter and considers it an effective strategy.

Citing that philosophical difference, the city is planning to secede from the coalition, which is chartered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and whose membership includes 50 nonprofits and businesses throughout the county.

With it, the city would take its share of the Continuum of Care’s funding. It is the coalition's largest member.

“This has to do with better utilization of our resources and that’s really the bottom line,” Michelle Kennedy, a City Council member, told the News & Record’s Richard Barron.

Kennedy has a been a longtime advocate for the homeless community in Greensboro and is executive director of the local day center for the homeless, the Interactive Resource Center.

So, she is well-acquainted with the local homelessness problem.

But the manner in which this debate is playing out is troubling.

Some Continuum of Care leaders seemed as blindsided about the split as everyone else.

They also seem put off by what seems to be the city’s choice to break off from the organization without including it in discussions about what the future of care and services for the homeless will look like going forward.

"The question is not should they be exploring this option," said Pamela Palmer, who chairs the Continuum of Care's board. "The question is if we are going to explore this option, why are we not exploring this collectively?"

That's a fair question.

We’re not doubting that everybody involved wants to do what’s best.

Not that long ago, the city was fending off its own critics.

Allegations among some homeless about of heavy-handed treatment by police and a controversial panhandling ordinance led to protests and heated City Council meetings.

But, after spending too much energy on the symptoms, and not the root of the problem, the city has made some encouraging inroads in its approach to homeless residents. For instance, it is considering an ambitious and promising facility that would provide housing and support services for the homeless in one location.

Longer term, the city also is considering a 10-year, $50 million plan to target five neighborhoods for housing renovations, apartment construction and home ownership assistance.

According to a consultant's report, many low-income families who earn less than $30,000 a year are paying more than 30% of their monthly income for housing; others, who make less, are paying more than 50% of their monthly income for housing.

If that trend continues to hold, the city would have 11,000 fewer affordable-housing units than it needs by 2030.

Yet, entities that would seem to be obvious partners in preventing that may be parting ways.

This has the makings of a messy divorce.

It raises worries about the impact it will have on the people who are supposed to benefit.

And it couldn't come at a less opportune time.

So far as we can tell, an average of 600 people are homeless in Greensboro at any given time.

But those numbers could swell. With legal protections and federal coronavirus relief expiring, a flood of more than 700,000 evictions is expected in North Carolina. And the Guilford County Sheriff's Office has received 321 "writs of possession," or eviction papers, and served 237 of them since July 1, the News & Record reported Thursday. 

A problem this serious, and destined to get worse, calls for a shared vision and resources.

The Continuum of Care is a credible and diverse organization. And, if you ask us, the question of short-term housing versus long-term housing isn't "either/or." It's "and." 

The last thing the city needs right now is splintered factions.

Get it together, people.

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