Asheville – When temperatures dropped into the 20s on Halloween night, the City of Asheville was prepared to see its homeless population indoors. Code Purple season went into effect on October 15, and it will remain so until April 30.
Since 2009, homeless shelters in Asheville have been opening their doors to keep urban campers alive on nights when temperatures “put people sleeping outside at severe risk for injury or death.” This now means dry wind chills at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or wet temperatures between 33 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
At a recent council worksession, Asheville’s Homeless Strategy Division Manager Emily Ball shared that the city and Buncombe County had each budgeted $50,000 for Code Purple this year. Since the county asked that the city handle the administrative end, the city advertised a $100,000 “funding opportunity,” and only one organization, Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM), responded.
In the absence of other bids, ABCCM’s request for the full monty was supported by the city’s Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee. Another Code Purple provider, the Salvation Army, will absorb costs in its existing budget.
According to the plan, ABCCM will provide 50 beds at the Veterans Restoration Quarters and 25 at its Transformation Village. Last year, ABCCM provided 50 beds at Transformation Village but saw no more than 18 beds occupied at any time. The Salvation Army will add 16 beds. Both locations are prepared to take in more people on Code Purple nights if necessary.
In addition, the city is drawing up contracts with three agencies to provide an additional 43 beds, which will be funded with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money. Haywood Street was on schedule to open three beds by November 1. Haywood Street Congregation came into the limelight for hosting the I-240 encampment for folks forced out of their homes by COVID. The encampment was razed when, after the Department of Transportation complained that it was on their property, a body found in one of the tents proved the final straw in complaints about health and safety in what had become viewed as a drug den rampant with crime.
The Salvation Army will use ARPA funds to create 20 beds and save 45. No comment was made about how the 45 beds come into play; Code Purple documents only credit the Salvation Army with 16 beds.
A relatively new provider, Safe Shelter, has plans to open a 20-bed shelter. Last year, Grace Episcopal Church partnered with Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church and Trinity United Methodist Church to set up a shelter in an old church house. When they learned the owner intended to sell the building, they decided they could accommodate the homeless on a rotating basis.
Ball said the churches are now working with Homeward Bound to use the AHOPE Day Center building on North Ann Street after hours. Clientele would be accepted via agency referral only. Ball said since most Safe Shelter clients have jobs, there would be no problem separating the two operations.
AHOPE helps the homeless with basic services like showers, a mailing address, and a phone answering service. Unfortunately, it has earned a reputation as a magnet for vagrants who annoy neighbors. Safe Shelter is currently working up a lease agreement with AHOPE and “begun neighborhood engagement.” Ball expected this to go well because the new community would be “activating the space.”
Ball seemed to be providing assurance when she said AHOPE would not be operating the after-hours shelter. She described it as an updated model of Room at the Inn, in which church congregants mingle and share meals with the homeless. The Rev. Mike Reardon of Grace wants the program to break the isolation he feels breeds homelessness.
Normally, shelters have rules, but on Code Purple nights, those fly out the window in the name of humane rescue. Missions, whose purpose is to help redeem lost souls, typically require guests to regularly participate in activities like prayer meetings, and this repels a lot of potential intakes. Even secular shelters, for the safety of their clients, will not admit intoxicated people. On Code Purple nights, doors open to perps and victims alike, but men are kept separately from women and children, and other arrangements can be made for unacceptable behavior.
The Homeless Coalition and shelter providers will decide 48 hours in advance when Code Purple will be called, and homeless people with technology have a number of options for receiving the alerts. During Code Purple events, city buses and community paramedics will help move the homeless to shelters, gratis.