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Former hotel supplements, not replaces, emergency winter facilities

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Former hotel supplements, not replaces, emergency winter facilities
FEATURE-HomelessHotel1.jpg

A Greensboro nonprofit has converted the former Regency Inn & Suites Motel at 2701 N. O’Henry Blvd into an emergency winter homeless shelter. While there seemed to be some confusion at first as to whether the converted site will supplement or completely replace the emergency measures the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) has taken in previous winters when temperatures dropped below freezing, it seems to have been cleared up.

IRC Director Kristina Singleton explained that the former motel would not be the only such resource, as the center will operate an additional shelter in partnership with the City of Greensboro.

On Nov. 23, a City of Greensboro press release announced that, with the aid of $3 million in city loan financing, the nonprofit Partnership Homes Inc. purchased the motel, and is remodeling it for housing homeless individuals facing freezing winter temperatures.

The release stated that the Interactive Resource Center and Greensboro Urban Ministries have collaborated in the past on sheltering the city’s homeless during dangerous weather, “and now there will be another option for those needing shelter;” with the phrase “another option” suggesting that the hotel would be supplementing those past procedures rather than replacing them.

But last week, a social worker, who asked not to be identified, contacted YES! Weekly to express concern that the motel might be replacing the shelters that the IRC utilized in past winters.

This source alleged that, before 2020, the IRC’s “white flag” protocols gave emergency walk-in shelter to anyone who showed up by 6 p.m., but that with the new system being implemented, those seeking such shelter must go in person to the IRC or Greensboro Urban Ministries by 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, fill out an application, be referred to the Regency facility, and then wait for approval, a process which may take several days even when approval is granted.

In their email, the social worker called the non-profit and the hotel “assets to our community for people who are experiencing homelessness,” which will “help individuals move through the continuum to obtain permanent housing.” But they stated their hope that “the two programs should complement each other,” explaining that the motel site “should not be a replacement for the White Flag protocol that the IRC has managed for years.”

The social worker alleged that, when they recently called the IRC, they were told that the Regency site would be replacing rather than complementing the former procedures and shelter.

This writer called the IRC on Monday morning and asked “are you still doing White Flag emergency procedure this year, or is that being handled by the new Regency site?”

“No White Flag this year,” said the employee who answered the phone, “and the Regency is at capacity at this moment.”

The city press release had also quoted former IRC Director Michelle Kennedy, now the Director of Neighborhood Development, as stating “This project is fully aligned with the mission of Partnership Homes and the Housing First approach that the city is pursuing in its supportive housing strategies under the Housing GSO 10-year affordable housing plan.”

When asked about the statement that there was “no White Flag” provided by the IRC this year and that the remodeled motel units were currently full, Kennedy said that information was incorrect.

“The Regency is currently making rooms available as they are rehabbed. We just finalized White Flag planning last week, so folks may not have current info. The Regency is for people who are experiencing chronic homelessness. It’s a structured program that will run through March 1st. White Flag is still happening as it always has. The IRC is the lead agency for that.”

Kennedy said that this year, rather than emergency shelter being provided at the IRC itself, as it sometimes was pre-Pandemic, the Center is partnering with First Baptist Church at 3000 W. Friendly Avenue.

“We’ve used First Baptist in the past, as they have a gym, which we’ll be using again this year. The city will be responsible for some security support and janitorial services, and the IRC will responsible for sorting out how that location runs and operates. We haven’t had many nights that have warranted it, and it will probably be next week before we do. But White Flag will continue on as always, with the IRC being the lead agency.”

Kennedy concluded by stating that IRC director Kristina Singleton would be calling to clarify the matter by the end of the business day. At 5 p.m., Singleton texted the following statement:

“With increasing shelter needs and area shelters operating at limited capacity due to COVID, the IRC will operate an additional white flag shelter in partnership with the City of Greensboro. The shelter will be held at First Baptist church to ensure proper spacing guidelines as recommended by the CDC. COVID has had a huge impact on all shelters in Greensboro and the IRC is committed to being programmatically flexible to meet the need of our community.”

This writer also spoke to Mike Cooke, president of Partnership Homes, Inc, about what the nonprofit is doing with the Regency motel.

“Tomorrow will be two weeks that we’ve been open and there’s been a lot of challenges, but it’s going well and we still have space available. I imagine at some point, sooner rather than later, we could have between 90 and 100 persons.”

Cooke said that there are presently approximately 60 people housed at the facility. “We only take folks that are placed by the IRC or Greensboro Urban Ministries.”

He said that the partner agencies are responsible for helping people get to the facility, which is off Highway 29. “They sometimes will bring them in their vehicles, sometimes other parties will, and there are few, although not a lot, of homeless folks who have their own vehicles.”

He also described the origin of the project.

“This property was identified by the city back around February of 2021 as a potential property for conversion to what’s called Permanent Supportive Housing, and so that’s when I got involved. The city asked me to be involved, as I have some history with the city, and a long history of developing affordable housing, particularly for the homeless. So, they got me involved with it, and then we began working on it in that regard, doing due diligence and studying the property as a site for potential conversion to permanent supportive housing, whereby people have long-term leases. We were actually going to take each room and make them into efficiencies.”

He said that’s still the plan.

“But along the way, we thought about this property as the winter emergency shelter. We were prepared to buy the property with the city’s support, anyway, but we sort of pushed all that forward and purchased it and are using it as a shelter. We are no longer open to the public, so we really aren’t even considered a motel anymore.”

I asked about the property’s maximum capacity.

“It depends somewhat on how many persons the agencies place in the rooms. They’re not putting any more than two. We could probably do 105.”

Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.

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