A long-awaited plan to provide a safe haven for homeless women with children has been put into action.
On Thursday, the Haywood Pathways Center broke ground for a two-story modular structure that can house up to 10 families at once. The unit will occupy the same campus that has dormitories for both men and women in the Hazelwood community.
The Pathways Center, which opened in late 2014, offers temporary housing for those who are homeless. To stay at the shelter for more than three days, residents must be working on a life improvement plan and remain drug/ alcohol-free.
Pathways Director Mandy Haithcox said she fields calls almost daily from women with children who have no place to live. The solution, to date, has been to work with other nonprofits in the community or to pay for temporary housing at motels.
That will change, hopefully by August, when there will be a facility where mothers with young children can stay safe as a more permanent solution is pursued.
The latest statistics in Haywood show there are 300 school-age children without homes, but that number doesn’t include children below age 5, said Haithcox. Nationwide statistics show children ages 0-5 make up half the homeless children population.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, County Commission Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick said the Pathways Center has been an amazing program and that the addition will help fill a void in the community. He praised the faith community, and particularly Pastor Nick Honerkamp, New Covenant Church, who has been key in launching the effort.
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said the measure of a community isn’t the buildings it puts up, but programs like the Pathways Center which don’t build walls but break down barriers.
He said the program provides not only refuge but rehabilitation and redemption. He quoted the town’s police chief in saying the community can’t arrest its way out of the opioid epidemic and said the same is true with the homeless population.
“A hundred years from now, this will be seen as what Waynesville and Haywood County is all about,” he said.
Before determining that an on-campus facility for moms and kids was the best path forward, the governing board explored several different options, said Chairman Pam Carter. One included purchasing mobile homes to place in the community, and another was to purchase a large home, perhaps one recently used as a bed and breakfast.
Ultimately, it was agreed a facility that could use the same security and support staff on the Pathways Center campus was the answer.
“We needed to find what was feasible for the money we had,” Carter said. “It seemed like this was the way to go.”
Carter has been an active member of the jail ministry program in Haywood for the past four years. She is not concerned about having children on the same campus as those just released from jail or who are homeless because of other circumstances.
It is substance abuse or one bad choice that lands most people in jail, she said, but those living at Pathways recognize that and are working through the faith-based program to change their lives.
“When they are staying here, they are exactly who they need to be — upstanding citizens,” Carter said. “The probability of anything happening here is very, very slim.”
Additionally, most of the women with children who will need the center’s services have likely run across the type of individuals they will be sharing a campus with, she added.
Honerkamp said as social issues become more complex, there is an increased need for churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations to work together to find solutions.
“What’s more Jesus-like than taking care of moms and kids that need a place to stay?” he asked.