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Fayetteville and Cumberland County officials still determined to tackle homelessness in wake of recent blows


As city and county leaders gathered Thursday to discuss next steps in tackling homelessness in Cumberland County, one woman on the front lines provided a stark reminder of the county’s situation.

Debbie Brown, the chairwoman of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Continuum of Care, which works to provide resources to people experiencing and at risk for homelessness, read a grim list of statistics she’d compiled before the bimonthly meeting of the Homeless Advisory Committee. The committee includes County Commissioners Toni Stewart and Veronica Jones, Fayetteville City Council members Malik Davis and Brenda McNair, and Brown. (Jones was not present Thursday.)

First, Brown went through statistics from the North Carolina Housing Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Durham, which recently released its 2024 profile for all 100 counties in the state. 

“Thirty-seven percent of Cumberland County are rent-burdened,” she said. “That’s 45,232 households. Fifty-one percent of renters have difficulty affording their homes. So in our community, 28,630 households. Twenty-five percent of homeowners have difficulty affording their homes. That’s 16,602 households in our community.”

The fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in Cumberland County is $1,292 a month, Brown said, noting that was a 25% increase from last year and a 45% increase over the past five years. 

“Our county ranks number 13 (out of 100 N.C. counties) for evictions among renter households,” she said, adding that 642 families faced foreclosures and 8,219 families faced eviction filings in Cumberland County last year.

“When we’re looking at homelessness, we’re not also just looking at those that are just on the street,” she said. “We’re looking at those folks that are at risk. There’s your at-risk individuals.” 

Next, Brown reviewed the N.C. Dept. of Commerce’s county rankings, which assign counties a status of Tier 1, 2 or 3, with Tier 1 being the most economically distressed. Cumberland County is a Tier 1 community, she said. 

“Cumberland County is ranked 23rd out of 100 [N.C.] counties,” she said. “So when we’re looking at all of those things, I ask us to make sure that we’re aware of this and thinking through these things are we’re looking at homelessness.”

It was a bleak reminder as the county and city face two recent blows in their respective fights against homelessness — the loss of a service provider at the city’s Day Resource Center and the approaching retirement of Cumberland County Community Development Director Dee Taylor.

Assistant County Manager Heather Skeens announced Taylor’s retirement at Thursday’s meeting. 

“We are very sad to see Dee leave after a long career at Cumberland County,” she said. “She has done tremendous work for community development and for the community at large, so just very sad to see her go, but also very happy that she can start a new life.” 

Taylor will retire at the end of March, Skeens said.

Assistant City Manager Kelly Olivera provided further details on the city’s search for a new nonprofit to operate the Day Resource Center, which opened in August. Cumberland HealthNET will not renew its contract with the city when it ends June 30, she said. 

“We appreciate everything that they’ve done for us in this first year, lifting this center up and getting it up and running,” Olivera said. “We will be issuing a request for proposals to be seeking a new operating partner … We do anticipate having some really strong proposals come in. We’ve had conversations with some of our local nonprofits. There is a lot of interest in helping us operate this center, and I credit that to Cumberland HealthNET and their willingness to come in and set the bar for that and say it can be done.”

A stakeholder committee will review the proposals to choose another operating partner, she said.

Positive updates

City and county leaders provided updates on their respective efforts to address homelessness. 

In addition to the county’s groundbreaking on its new homeless support center, Taylor noted the county was approved to receive funding through the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency to build 10 single-family homes off Old Wilmington Road. The county is also waiting to hear back on a grant for youth homelessness projects, Skeens said.

As for the homeless support center, Skeens said the county hopes to present draft programming and design proposals to county commissioners within four to six months. Meanwhile, Public Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green estimated the county’s new opioid recovery center would open by the fall.

Brown said the Continuum has continued its on-the-ground work to help those experiencing homelessness. She and Stewart both highlighted a recent job fair at the Day Resource Center with Cape Fear Valley Health, which resulted in one homeless individual getting a job, according to Stewart. Brown said that another 13 individuals who attended the fair have applied for jobs with Cape Fear Valley and three had interviews this week.

“It’s one person at a time, one step at a time,” Stewart said. “It made my entire day.”

A consistent theme at Thursday’s meeting was the importance of collaboration — something all board members could agree on. 

“Independently, we’re struggling, but together, we can get something done,” Stewart said.

As the Day Resource Center and the future homeless support center look towards providing services for the homeless, Brown cautioned the board not to forget the county’s need for temporary shelter.

“We know that we do not have enough beds. We also know that we do not have emergency shelters,” she said. “We have to understand that shelter is a great need for our community.”

Brown summed it up succinctly in her closing remarks.

“We need to understand there’s a bigger, broader picture in our community,” she said. “It’s not that one person who’s sleeping on the street.”

The committee will next meet at 9 a.m. April 25 The location of the meeting will be announced at a later date.

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

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Cumberland County, Fayetteville, homelessness, day resource center, affordable housing