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Guilford commissioner wants HUD to prevent Greensboro's departure from homeless agency
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Guilford commissioner wants HUD to prevent Greensboro's departure from homeless agency

GREENSBORO — The chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has appealed to U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to stop the city's plan to leave the countywide group that provides services to the homeless. 

Chairman Jeff Phillips wrote a letter earlier this month to Carson, saying the city's plan to leave the Guilford County Continuum of Care would hurt the homeless community. He suggested the group could be managed by Guilford County government.

City officials have said for several months that agencies of the continuum have not moved quickly enough to shift their focus to permanent housing for the homeless and, with an emphasis on using shelters instead, are not following HUD guidelines.

In some cases, the city has reduced its financial contribution to these agencies because they do not emphasize "rapid rehousing," a process that quickly finds permanent housing for the homeless in order to keep them out of shelters.

The city was the Continuum of Care's largest member and its major provider of funding. With the city's money and influence gone, it's unclear how much of an effect this will have on the Continuum of Care's efforts.

Meanwhile, the city plans to create a new group called the Greensboro Continuum of Care and seek HUD approval.

The move would leave Guilford County and High Point nonprofits under the Continuum of Care's auspices needing to regroup.

The Guilford County Continuum of Care is a HUD-approved coalition of more than 50 agencies and businesses that provide aid and housing to the homeless population of Greensboro, High Point and Guilford County. A High Point nonprofit, Partners Ending Homelessness, manages the Continuum of Care, which has an all-volunteer board.

It's unclear how the potential changes at the Continuum of Care would affect the role of Partners Ending Homelessness. 

Phillips wrote in his letter to HUD that the city's move, which was discussed by council on Sept. 1, "certainly comes as a shock to the county."

He said he is concerned with "the impact it will have on some of our most fragile residents through the addition of changes to an already complex system."

Phillips wrote that the county "has much experience over the years coordinating existing services into more cohesive and effective collaboratives." 

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said Monday she hadn't seen Phillips' letter, but was skeptical of the county's ability to manage an organization that provides housing and other services to the homeless. 

"The county doesn’t do housing — there are some counties that do," Vaughan said. "It would also be important for the county to be able to document ... what data they have over the last few years to show exactly what they have done for homelessness and people living in poverty."

One example of the difference in philosophy between the city and Continuum of Care in its approach to homelessness came during the pandemic.

When the state went under quarantine, the city stepped up to house more than 100 homeless people at the Greensboro Sportsplex. Later, those people and many more were moved to hotels paid for by the city, which received some federal reimbursement.

The Continuum of Care's plan to house the county's remaining homeless in shelters operated by more than a dozen nonprofits would have exposed those people to a higher risk of infection, some city officials argued.

Phillips said in his letter that maintaining the large countywide group is a more efficient way to deliver services to homeless people. 

Pamela Palmer, who chairs the Continuum of Care, said Monday that Phillips' letter reflects the close working relationship her group has enjoyed with county leaders.

She said the continuum "is exploring continued collaboration with the county and that’s as much as I can share at this point."

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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