Breaking Cycles Building Foundations

The Haywood Pathways Center is celebrating its third anniversary with news of an expanded focus to serve women with children.

Since it opened in 2014, the former state prison that was transformed into an emergency shelter has on-site facilities to serve both men and women. Underage children aren’t currently allowed to stay at the center.

A vote at Monday’s meeting cleared the way for that to change when the Haywood County Board of Commissioners gave approval for a two-story modular building to be placed on the Haywood Pathways Center property, which the organization leases from the county.

Homeless families can sometimes receive funding to stay in a motel until a better situation is found, but they don’t receive the intensive case management that’s needed for longer-term solutions, said Pathways Center Director Mandy Haithcox.

In August, the center’s board approved conceptual for a 5,376 square-foot unit that will provide temporary housing for up to 10 women with children. The plan is for each family to have an individual room. There will be shared space for a kitchen, children’s play area and living area.

When the commissioners signed off on the plan, it cleared the way for a fundraising effort to get the project off the ground. Haithcox told the board one-fourth of the $625,000 total project cost, which includes start-up operational funds, is already in hand. Fundraising and grants will make up the difference.

Haywood Pathways Center board member Jim Blyth is optimistic about bringing the total to $400,000 fairly quickly, which will allow the unit to be ordered. If all goes well, the center could be accepting families by spring.

Deb Isenberg, the community liaison for the organization, said the present strategy for dealing with homeless families in Haywood is to put them up in a motel room — something Isenberg stressed does nothing to address root problems that led to homelessness. The motel-room option is nothing more than a Band-Aid, plus it has become far more costly now that The Lodge has closed.

For years, churches and nonprofits could rent rooms at The Lodge at a reasonable cost, but after Publix purchased the motel for its future Waynesville store, it’s left a huge void. Now the price is in the $50 a night range, Haithcox said, to it is more vital than ever to offer a family option through the Pathways Center.

The latest estimate is that there are about 300 homeless children in the Haywood County school system. There could be more that aren’t in school. That doesn’t count the children under age 5, which constitute about half of the children considered homeless nationally.

“This effort is about breaking cycles and building foundations,” said Isenberg, explaining the focus of presentations will be educating the community on the reasons people are homeless. Those reasons span a wide berth. Some fall victim to natural disasters such as a landslide or fire. Others have a medical problem that prevents them from working and the bills pile up until they are evicted or lose their home. Still others have mental health or substance abuse issues.

“One woman moved to this community to take a job, but the job fell through and she had no means to get back,” said Haithcox. “She’s one of our success stories. She now has a job and found permanent housing.”

Emergency housing

In the continuum of housing needs in Haywood, the Pathways Center is on the “entry level” rung — the one the provides emergency housing and a little breathing room to stabilize individuals until they are ready to move forward.

Those without housing options can stay at the center three days, no questions asked if they can pass a drug screen and are not a sex offender. To remain longer, they need to work with the center’s case manager to develop a life plan. As long as they are working on their person-centered goal plan, they can stay for up to six months.

A daytime visit to the center shows it to be almost deserted as clients attend classes, look for a job, attend counseling sessions or volunteer to help out around the county.

Haithcox estimates that an average family stay with the Pathways Center, once that option becomes available, would be around four months, but said some women will be able to find a more permanent environment in a much shorter time.

“There are many more reasons for families to be homeless,” Haithcox said. “Domestic violence is a big thing. If a mom doesn’t have a job, she can’t get job without daycare and can’t afford daycare without a job. The same with transportation.”

REACH of Haywood County serves victims of domestic violence and is a first stop for women fleeing a dangerous situation. Once the family quarters are complete, Haithcox suggested the Pathways Center could become the second step where the family can find a place to finish stabilizing.

“There is a hierarchy of needs, and we’re addressing the survival things — food, stable shelter, and helping folks get stable so have space to think about finding a job, how to parent their kids and dealing with wounds or trauma,” Haithcox said. “People need to have a different perspective to move forward.”

The next step after the Pathways Center is to find transitional housing for the family. Churches in the community are tackling this piece through a new initiative called EACH, Ending Area Childhood Homelessness. (See separate story here.)

Under this program, participating churches buy or rent a house they make available to a homeless family as work through challenges toward self-sufficiency. Again, casework management and adherence to a life plan is essential to stay in the program.

Another important step includes helping expand the availability of affordable housing, which has been identified as a major challenge in Haywood. A recently adopted Affordable Housing Task Force study outlines a strategy for this issue. (See housing task force story)

Proven track record
Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher has been on the governing board of Haywood Pathways Center since its inception. In fact, it was a conversation Christopher had with two men sitting on the curb near the jail following their release about their future that sparked the movement for a permanent shelter in the county where those who truly wanted to turn their lives around could do so.

That is the key to any forward movement, Christopher stressed. “The Pathways Center is effective for people who want to make a change,” Christopher said. “It all begins with the person who is leaving our facility. Only those who truly want to make that change and have the strength and fortitude to do this will be successful.”

There are many ways to track the recidivism rate, the level at which those who leave jail reoffend. The sheriff’s office has recently purchased a computer software program that will provide more data, but for now, Christopher’s recidivism references refer only to those who enter the Pathways Center.

Firm data for the18 month period ending on June 30, 2017, illustrates the Pathways Center has been an effective tool to breaking cycles.

For women to leave the county jail and enter the Pathways Center, 68 percent are not readmitted to the jail. The number for men stands at 47 percent for the same time period, Christopher said. Many who were incarcerated entered with addiction issues, he said.

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