City Council eager to donate land for new homeless shelter
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The night before Kyna Foster appeared in front of Salisbury City Council last year, 48 men and women slept in the homeless shelter at Rowan Helping Ministries.
The night before Foster spoke to City Council this week, the number of men, women and children in the overcrowded facility at 226 N. Long St. had jumped to 64.
As the number of Rowan County residents living in poverty nears one-quarter of the population, Rowan Helping Ministries serves twice the number of clients it did when Foster became executive director 19 months ago.
“We are approaching a 100 percent increase,” she told City Council Tuesday.
Council members embraced a request to donate three city-owned lots in the 200 block of North Long Street across from the existing building for a new homeless shelter and soup kitchen.
“Rowan Helping Ministries is such a tremendous asset,” Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said. “I don’t know of any greater need that we have in this community.”
Together, the three lots have a tax value of $98,000. With the city’s donation and the purchase of several privately-owned lots, Rowan Helping Ministries will have access to nearly the entire block for development of a 20,000-square-foot building, complete with solar panels and ample parking.
Shelter Ministries, a nonprofit organization, will build and own the new shelter and renovate the existing structure for other uses.
“None of us is immune from being homeless,” Council member Maggie Blackwell said. “Many of your guests would agree that they never thought they would be in this situation.”
Blackwell said her family has volunteered at Rowan Helping Ministries for nine years, watching the number of shelter guests grow from a high of 28 people to more than 50 on a regular basis.
Council member Brian Miller said he’d like the city to go a step further than donating the land. With people walking back and forth between the new and existing buildings, Miller suggested better street lighting and crosswalks.
“We need to do even more than just give you the land,” he said. “We need to support you in other ways.”
Already, Rowan Helping Ministries has raised 96 percent of the $5.5 million needed for the project.
Organizers have met with residents of the Park Avenue and Brooklyn South Square neighborhoods.
“They had good suggestions so that we can be a better neighbor,” said Chris Bradshaw, a board member and chairman of Shelter Ministries.
He noted the residents applauded after the meeting “for the effort we are making.”
Shelter Ministries will own nearly everything in the block except a few lots owned by the Salisbury Community Development Corporation, as well as a privately-owned apartment complex on North Shaver Street and the lot next door.
Shelter Ministries will buy and renovate three houses at the corner of North Long and East Council streets for use as transitional housing for families.
The land acquisition process has been a team effort, Bradshaw said.
The homeless shelter built to hold 40 men now routinely holds 60-plus people, including women and children, Foster said. Recently, four families needed shelter at one time.
People now sleep in the lobby, dining room, break room and interview rooms.
The new shelter would provide space for 60 men, 40 women and up to four families. The new dining room would accommodate 126 people, double the current capacity.
Mayor Paul Woodson waived the $500 fee to close an alley on the property as part of City Council’s motion, which passed unanimously.
Foster and Cam Campbell, director of resource development, also asked the council to increase the Community Development Block Grant funding to Rowan Helping Ministries from $18,200 this year to $25,000 next year to help pay for additional shelter staff.
The shelter has extended hours to allow all guests time to shower and children the opportunity to do homework. The shelter is also open longer on weekends and during inclement weather, requiring more staff.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.