ASHEBORO – During the Nov. 8 City Council meeting, Asheboro City Manager John Ogburn shared some insights into other cities' methods addressing homelessness as Asheboro and Randolph County officials struggle with the situation here.
"This is a national problem," Ogburn said. "It's not a local problem here. The opioid issue is a national problem. Homelessness, which is driven by hopelessness, is a national problem."
Ogburn gave a presentation called "Lessons Learned," based on discussions he attended during the International City Managers Association meeting in Austin, Texas last month.
Ogburn said homelessness is primarily driven by three issues: physical abuse, substance abuse, and mental illness. "Our first goal is connecting them with services," he said. "This is the long-term solution."
He said, "A city does what's known as 'hard programs.' That's police, fire department, streets, water and sewer, sanitation, parks and recreation, libraries. Counties do what are 'soft services' or human services. That's going to be mental health, social services, physical health and health department, court systems, schools, etcetera."
The "Lessons Learned" he listed included the following:
• No permitting camps to be built or occupied and no occupation of abandoned buildings.
• No camping or homesteading in public facilities or properties.
• Law enforcement and code enforcement staff be made aware of services and know how to connect people with providers.
• Cooperation with the court system, including district attorney's office and parole officers.
• Enforcement of the letter and spirit of the law.
• Moving homeless out of jurisdiction is an acceptable response for public safety and meeting the needs of the community.
He used the city of Mesa, Arizona, as an example, saying it started an initiative called "Off the Streets" and used vacant hotels for temporary housing, combined with wraparound services to make participants self-sufficient.
Ogburn provided a list of measures that he said should be part of any similar program:
• Lived experience and peer support personnel working with clients.
• Case management with client access services.
• Standing rules and requirements for participants.
• Acceptance of certain pets.
• Long-term housing plans.
• Closed campus with visitation limits.
• Stays no longer than 90 days.
• No walk-up or drop-in services.
• Law enforcement on site.
• Clean, well-maintained campuses.
• Outdoor areas buffered from the surrounding community.
• Room checks and curfews.
• Transportation to services.
Ogburn did not call for the creation of a similar program in Asheboro, but he does plan to talk to Randolph County Commissioners. The county approved the distribution of money from the opioid abuse settlement this year. This month, the county voted to start a Veterans Court Project to connect veterans who struggle to transition back into civilian life with housing and other services, as an alternative to incarceration.
It is important, Ogburn said, for people to have access to long-term solutions. "If there's nowhere to go, they won't even start the program."