By Taylor Briggs
For many, snow represents a much-appreciated day off work, clunky men comprised of three snow balls in the front yard, and a warm cup of coffee with a view of the winter season outside the window – but for Greensboro’s roughly 900 homeless residents, snow represents discomfort, illness, and potential risk to personal health and safety. This week, many people experiencing homelessness in our city sought emergency relief in facilities supported through Greensboro Urban Ministry and the IRC (Interactive Resource Center). These programs offer support to people experiencing homelessness in the form of food resources, shelter, and community. I sat with local advocate and philanthropist Brantley Grier for more insight into what’s being done to support our homeless population.
“About ten years ago we started what’s called the Winter Emergency Shelters here in Greensboro. A group of different non-profits came together. We decided that something needs to be done over the winter months, because there is not enough space here in Greensboro Urban Ministries. So, a group of churches and us decided that we were going to have different spots open during the winter, and that’s been going on for ten years now…”
I spoke to Grier at the Greensboro Urban Ministry facility on Eugene Street at around 3:30 in the afternoon. He had just gotten off a third shift at West Market Street Church, and was continuing to push through the afternoon, providing assistance to the facility’s many visitors, who were congregated in the lobby.
“…and the different churches are West Market, Grace, Mount Zion, and New Jerusalem which is at Summit House. ”
Alongside Greensboro Urban Ministry’s Winter Emergency Shelters program, the IRC provides emergency relief through its White Flag program. Grier and his colleagues in Greensboro Urban Ministry and the IRC work tirelessly to provide support and relief to our community’s homeless population; but these organizations are supported almost entirely through monetary donations from the community and volunteered time and resources. Last year, only about 2% of Greensboro Urban Ministry’s annual revenue was provided through government grants, while 47% was provided through contributions and bequests. Although the financial support of private citizens is generous, the organization still struggles to balance revenue with expenses and provide adequate support for the entire homeless population in Greensboro. Which begs the question – what is the City of Greensboro doing to help its residents who lack secure housing?
Outside of funneling money donated to the city in the form of federal grants to local agencies through Partners Ending Homelessness, very little. For what it’s worth, greensboro-nc.gov’s entire webpage for Homeless Prevention Services is fewer than 150 words, and includes a redirect link to the Partners Ending Homelessness (a state AmeriCorps program) website and a phone number for United Way. What’s not included is any information on how the City of Greensboro can directly provide support to residents experiencing homelessness, or any line of communication for people to reach city government to talk about issues regarding homelessness in our city (http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=1568).
“It seems like a couple years ago, there was more being done,” explains Grier. “There were more people to be involved…from both the city and the community. It’s just – things happen, because of funding issues, or maybe some churches just couldn’t handle it, or some organizations might have dissolved…but the need is still there – it’s definitely still there. ”
Grier goes on to describe the need for family shelters as perhaps the most pressing concern for our city’s homeless population:
“Right now only the YWCA hosts women and children. Pathways hosts families, but it’s not a shelter – it’s transitional living. So in the winter time, let’s say a husband and wife and children are out in the cold – we might be able to get the mom into somewhere; might be able to get the dad into somewhere; but where are the children going to go if the YWCA is filled? There needs to be more shelters that can accommodate families at the drop of the dime, even if it’s not snowing, even if it’s the summer. I see that as our biggest need.”
I went onto ask Grier if he believes the city will find a way to fund shelters that can accommodate homeless families:
“I would hope so. I think a bigger emphasis needs to be placed on that. I believe that there are some things the city, if given the opportunity and maybe shown how to do things…I believe that they want to, but I don’t think the need is brought up to them as much and is not pushed towards them as much as it could be.”
Still, Grier maintains a sense of optimism for the City of Greensboro’s involvement in supporting people experiencing homelessness in our community, especially with some of the recent changes in City Council:
“If something’s brought up repeatedly over, and over, and over – then you see the need. I think now with certain peoples’ ears on there, all they need to do is hear it once or twice. Now with Michelle (Kennedy) on there and Sharon (Hightower)…you know, people who are on the streets, talking to people, seeing them face-to-face.”
The City of Greensboro has a responsibility in supporting its homeless residents; and we as the public have a responsibility in letting the city know that this issue is important to us. Let’s take Grier’s advice, and play our role in holding our representatives accountable by bringing up the need for homelessness relief “repeatedly over, and over, and over.”
Taylor Briggs is a member of DSA and a contributor for PLR.
Facts About Homelessness – Interactive Resource Center
Homelessness Prevention Services
Greensboro Urban Ministry – Financial Report – June 30/2017 [PDF]. (2017, September 27).
Greensboro, NC: RSM US LLP.
Sit down with Brantley Grier [Personal interview]. (2018, January 18).